Amber Barrett, the German-based Ireland international, has hit out at the “confusion” over elite status and an inability to train or play games for her former team-mates and opponents at inter-county level in GAA.
And the Donegal native, who has a master’s in education, also admits that it will be a challenge to lure children back to sport once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, after months of inactivity, in the coming weeks.
After a difficult year in 2020, which saw her club, Koln, relegated from the top flight in Germany and the national team missing out on qualification for the Euros, Barrett is trying to look to better times ahead, or as much as possible given the complications from Covid.
Her season with Koln kicks into gear later this month and next month Ireland’s World Cup fate will become clearer when the draw for the qualifying groups is made, with the pain of a disappointing third-place finish in the last group, and the loss of a play-off spot, still there.
“Unfortunately, over the last couple of years it’s just seems that we have been that close but that we just end up missing out,” Barrett says.
“And it was the same with the last campaign which I think most of the girls would agree was definitely the most disappointing that we’ve had over the last number of years. We started off so well and we were in such a good position and then just the way the group ended up.
“But definitely it’s something we will be taking into the next campaign. One of the first things that Vera said to us after the Germany game at home was: ‘Remember this feeling and this is not going to happen to us again,’ and so I think having that message as well is really important going forward.”
Relegation for Koln was a blow and second-tier football was not in the plan when she moved there, but Barrett is comforted by the fact that she has training and games to focus on while GAA remains in cold storage: Barrett was a key performer at senior level for Donegal before she opted to focus on soccer.
“I can’t compare myself to any of them because I have been very lucky to be able to train and play and I know how much of an outlet it has been for me. I know when I compare the period last year during the first lockdown when there was no training to doing it now with training how it is so beneficial mentally,” Barrett adds.
“I know from playing county for the amount of time I did that, yes, the players are amateur but they are elite athletes. They dedicate day in, day out to making themselves available for selection to prepare so of course I can sympathise with everybody,” she says.
“The elite status, the way it has been in Ireland, tends to be quite confusing as to who gets it and who doesn’t.
" I read something really that there were a lot of Athletics Ireland athletes not granted special circumstances to train and things like that and it is your own perception as to what exactly is elite.”
Having worked in the education field, Barrett knows how vital it is to reestablish the link between kids and sport once lockdown is lifted or eased.
“It will be the responsibility of teachers and parents to make sure that that encouragement of going out until nine or ten o’clock to play with their friends is something that we don’t lose. Losing that would have a huge knock-on effect on so many things, in terms of mental health,” she adds.
“I also think there is going to be that nearly excitement for people getting back into that routine of being able to go out with their friends. Of course there are going to be challenges but I am hopeful that we can get ahead of it.
“One thing about Covid is that it makes you so grateful for what you are missing. I am comparing my situation from when I wasn’t able to train to now when I am and I realise I am one of the luckiest people in the world getting to do what I love every single day. People will get that passion back as well.”