In the net: Emma Byrne
Name: Emma Byrne Age: 28 From: Leixlip, Co Kildare Occupation: Goalkeeper
In the news for: A professional goalkeeper for Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland women’s soccer team, Byrne has been playing professionally since the age of 14 and is currently Ireland’s No 1 international goalkeeper, with 50 caps under her belt.
She was recently named Eircom International Player of the Year, having taken her talents to Arsenal, where she was instrumental in turning the Gunners into one of England’s strongest teams.
She has commentated on women’s soccer for the BBC and is also the female face of the Nike Pro clothing range in the UK.
Barbara Harding (BH): Were you always soccer mad, even as a child?
Emma Byrne (EB): I was certainly sport mad and played every kind I could growing up. Leixlip was the main reason I stayed playing soccer, as it had a great women’s team in the older age group, so we had a good foundation in the sport.
BH: Who is the biggest influence in your sporting career?
EB: When I was growing up it was Sue Hayden, the No 1 female goalkeeper at the time, who was like the mammy figure when I started in the Irish team. She was my hero. Now it’s Alex Welch, my goalkeeping coach for Arsenal, and Ger Dunne, my Irish coach.
BH: How difficult is it for women to break into professional soccer?
EB: It’s hard because there are only 16 to 18 places in the Irish squad, but women’s soccer is a growing sport. It takes a lot of commitment and you really have to want to do it because the training is so vigorous. Our manager is the development officer for Ireland and has 50 staff working in different parts of the country scouting at club games. He would generally know most of the girls who play soccer and what kind of standard they are at.
BH: How did you end up playing for Arsenal?
EB: I was playing in Denmark at the time and wanted to move back home to Ireland, but only if I could continue soccer at a high level. One of my best friends played for Arsenal and their goalkeeper was injured, so I went to London for the weekend to meet officials and ended up coming home to pack my bags. I’m still here eight years later.
BH: How does it feel representing your country in the sport?
EB: It’s a massive honour and it was the proudest moment of my life putting on the Irish jersey for the first time. It’s a great achievement and I still feel it to this day.
BH: What was your first paid job after leaving school?
EB: I was working in the ticket office at the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) in Merrion Square taking bookings and doing administration. The association needed someone for the summer, and I had been playing soccer for Ireland since the age of 14, so I got the job.
BH: Is professional soccer a lucrative career for women?
EB: It’s nowhere near as lucrative as men’s football. Aside from my own training, I’m also a coach at Arsenal and work at the grounds. The majority of us girls have other jobs.
BH: You also commentated for BBC Sport, how did this come about?
EB: It happened because Ireland unfortunately didn’t get through to the 2006 World Cup and they wanted somebody within the game to commentate for the duration of the tournament. I do a lot of interviews for Arsenal, so the BBC asked our press officer if I was available. At first, I didn’t want to do it, because it was live TV, but I gave in and commentated for six or seven games. I really enjoyed it.
BH: Do your family regularly attend your matches with Arsenal?
EB: They come over for the big games such as the UEFA Cup final last year. But typically, I get phone calls from my brothers asking for free tickets to the men’s games!
BH: Have you any tricks of the trade when it comes to penalty shoot-outs?
EB: No. I sometimes move around a lot on the line or guess or react off the ball, but it’s generally pot luck with penalties.
BH: What advice do you have for other budding female soccer players?
EB: Try to stay committed, and play with the best club in your area. I left my club in Leixlip to play at St Patrick’s Athletic — sometimes you have to make that sacrifice. Also, ring the FAI and get information on the best soccer schools. Essentially, though, keep your head down and keep going, even if your mates give up, because it’s worth it in the end.
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