NIAMH FARRELLY IS focused on The Italian Job, while chasing the Irish dream.
The four-cap Girls In Green international joined Parma ahead of the new Serie A Femminile season, making the move from Glasgow City.
“Playing football in Serie A has always been my dream,” Farrelly tweeted, in Italian, as the switch was confirmed last month. “Factor 50 every day, let’s go.”
A few weeks in, with two league appearances under her belt, she’s happy out.
“It’s been good,” the 23-year-old Dubliner, who has primarily played in defence of late but is just as impressive in a midfield role, tells The42.
“It’s obviously been tough; the weather, a new environment, a new culture, a new language, completely new team for me, new people. It’s a lot to take in at the start, but you just have to take it day by day. Obviously, it’s different on the pitch but it’s completely different off the pitch as well. That part has been tough, obviously, but I came here for for a reason, I came here to play to play football. And obviously the attraction of such a nice country like Italy was there too.
“I knew the challenge that I’d be in for, it’s obviously more foreign to Glasgow, Glasgow is more like home, but it’s been good. I’m trying to get used to the weather and the intensity of training — there’s a lot more running involved! But so far, so good and I’m enjoying it.”
She’s the only Irish women’s player in the league at present, with Louise Quinn and Stephanie Roche on the books there in recent times.
It’s the road less travelled, an interesting alternative to the usual English pathway.
Playing further afield was always an ambition for Farrelly, who excelled for Peamount United on these shores. After a successful 18-month spell in Scotland, she wanted a new challenge. A new chapter, a change on and off the pitch.
And the timing was right, with the women’s Serie A turning fully-professional.
“I’ve always taken a liking to Italy, I’ve been on a few holidays when I was younger so I think it started there,” she explains. “I studied the language in school so that pushed me on even further.
“Two or three years back when Louise [Quinn] was playing there, I used to always pick her brain in camp, I obviously jumped at the opportunity when I got it. I always wanted to go afar. It’s out of my comfort zone, but as the saying goes, you only grow when you get out of your comfort zone. Hopefully that’ll be the case both on and off the pitch.”
Fresh off an Italian lesson before our video call — “I’m trying my best to brush up!” — Farrelly is pleased with how that side of things is progressing, no longer in need of translation in meetings as she’s fully immersed in it every day in the team environment.
The same goes for the culture and lifestyle. “Anyone that knows me knows how much I love food, and coffee,” she grins. “The way they do things is gas. All the different plates — you don’t put your meat on your plate with your pasta or rice, it’s just mad looking at all their ways of going about things. It’s class, it’s a bonus having such nice food, learning the culture and stuff like that. It’s a lovely country to be in.”
The city, too, is a joy. She lives alone in an apartment in the centre of Parma, with her team-mates within walking or cycling distance and the training ground not too far away either. “It’s a nice city, it’s not too big. I’d like to think I’m pretty settled now.”
What about on the field? She certainly looks to be anyway.
Farrelly made her first Serie A start on Monday, helping Parma to a famous 2-1 win over Sassuolo in their first home game of the season. (She featured as a substitute in their opening-day 4-1 defeat to Inter Milan, and should be involved against Fiorentina today.)
“That was our first win in Serie A so it was historic in that sense,” the Lucan native smiles, explaining how Parma rapidly rose through the ranks.
American billionaire Kyle Krause bough a 90% stake in the club in 2020, and made his aim to develop women’s football clear from the get-go. Parma were due to play in Serie C this season, but Krause and co. purchased Empoli’s Serie A license.
With money “pumped into the women’s side of the club,” it’s basically a full new team and the significant progress is evident already. “We have great facilities, we’re given everything the same as the men, there’s real ambition.”
And no shortage of on-field differences to Ireland and Scotland. The increased running in training, for one, springs to mind immediately as she feels much fitter than when she landed, but when she delves deeper, it’s more so playing style and other game elements.
“Technically, there’s a big difference. They focus a lot on the technical side, which is probably not my strength, but that’s good because I can obviously improve on that side when I’m here.”
“It’s physical but it’s also hard to get the balance between putting in a tackle and not getting fooled by them because they like to dive a lot,” she laughs. “So for me, I have to be careful on that side to make sure that I’m more smart with how I go about tackling and stuff like that.
“It’s obviously different. It’s a challenge. You’re coming up against huge players, international players. There’s huge names, the likes of Juventus, Roma, AC Milan, Inter Milan — and obviously Parma, we’re big as well.
“You block it out as much as you can, when you go play the game, it’s just 11 v 11. But to have that experience and say that you’re playing against them clubs is huge. I’ll be looking forward to coming up against the big guns, it’ll be exciting.”
A massive few weeks and months lie ahead for both club and country.
Formerly Irish U19 captain and a star through the underage ranks, Farrelly’s promising senior international career hit a snag this year.
A significant ankle injury, sustained in February just before the Pinatar Cup, impacted her status as regular squad member and she’s watched from afar through the latter stages of World Cup qualifying.
The blow came in a midweek game against Celtic. The day before Vera Pauw named her in the Pinatar squad to add to her woes, the Irish manager having been present at the fixture.
“It was actually a really bad tackle that I put in,” Farrelly recalls. “My ankle moved in a way that wasn’t normal, I had to go off straightaway but I didn’t think it was that bad.
“I had just been called up for the camp in Marbella, I thought I was going to be okay. It did swell up, but I had movement in it, I was able to walk on it and it seemed it seemed good. I flew to Marbella and it just didn’t seem to get better. Vera made a decision, luckily on my part, to send me home because I wasn’t okay. I got a scan then and it was two torn ligaments, so I was far from being able to play.
“It was tough. I didn’t think it was gonna be that long that I was out, and obviously the recovery was tough. It was close to the business end of season, there was the international camps, I thought I’d be back for some but I wasn’t. It was a slow process, but I just wanted to make sure it was right. I didn’t want to half-heartedly do the recovery, I wanted to make sure that I was back and I’d be okay and not have any underlying problems in it.
“I’ve had one or two stress fractures before, but I think that was the longest that I was kept out. You have to learn to live through it in sport, do the recovery and get back as soon as you can. I got back for the last three or four games of the season with Glasgow, which was good. I kept as fit as I could over the summer and ever since that, I’ve just pushed on, I try to work as hard as I can and hopefully I can get back in as soon as [possible] to the Irish team. It might take a longer time than I think, but hopefully I’ll get there soon.”
The recent history-making World Cup qualifying wins over Finland and Slovakia must have made for particularly difficult viewing, the DCU Sports Science graduate on the outside looking in as her friends and team-mates moved closer than ever to a maiden major tournament.
“Look, when Vera called me, obviously I was disappointed. I think it takes a few days for it to settle in, and for you to kind of get over it and stuff like that. But you turn into a fan then, I was buzzing! I tuned in. I had a few problems connecting in the first game, then I got in but no, I was delighted obviously for the girls.
“It’s not just me, there’s plenty of girls that have been in the squad and obviously not everyone can be in every squad. Everyone’s a part of it, no matter if you’re in that squad or you’re in the next squad. It’s important that you just have to keep fresh and focus on your club football, focus on trying to improve every day, work hard, keep your head down, and I believe if you do that, you will reap the rewards. As I said, if that’s sooner or if that’s later in the international set-up, you just bide your time and hopefully it’ll come when it comes.”
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Very well said. And that echoes the messages coming out of the squad in the wake of those victories, each and every player making the point that everyone is part of this journey. Injured players, those on the fringes, past players, and so on.
“100%,” Farrelly nods. “In camps, Vera always mentions the girls that are on the bench are still a big part because obviously we we train with the girls during the week and we help preparations coming up to the game, every single person.
“It’s not even just the players, it’s the staff, the background, the kit woman, the team organisations, everyone. Everyone’s on the journey together. And I think if everyone has that mindset — that everyone can play a little part — we can push women’s football in Ireland far.”
Viva la Quinta Brigada loud and proud 😍✊🏽🍀🍀
— Niamh Farrelly (@Niamh_Farrelly) September 6, 2022
Pushing one another to raise the bar. When involved, Farrelly does just that for the likes of experienced central defence trio Quinn, Niamh Fahey and Diane Caldwell.
It’s always the toughest area of a team to break into, but she sees that as more of a positive rather than a negative.
“Being in camp with them is great. They have so much experience; all the clubs they’ve been at, the things they’ve won, all the caps… Jesus, I don’t know how many caps together the three of them have, it must be hundreds!
“Obviously, it is tough, but you go in and you try and push them, and you also learn a lot. I’d rather have people like that in the squad that you can look up to and you can learn from, because you’re only gonna make yourself better by doing that.
“It’s not just that they’re good players, but they’re all good people as well and they’re always there if you have any questions or if you’ve anything on or off the pitch, which is such a bonus. They’re big names in women’s football, but they’re also so down to earth and that helps when you’re a young player and you’re trying to learn off them. It’s good and bad!”
That trio have been working towards a major tournament for longer than most of the current crop, and next month’s play-off showdown away to Scotland or Austria will go some way towards making it a reality.
“Sure look,” is the typically-Irish response Farrelly gives when asked for her thoughts on the draw. “It could be worse, it could be better but at the end of the day, it’s a one-off game. I have every belief that the team can can get there.”
One of several Irish players to plie their trade in Scotland in recent seasons, Farrelly has a deep insight to, and knowledge of, that potential opponent, having crossed paths with a huge chunk of the squad.
“I would know a good few of them, some from playing at Glasgow and there’s a good few that we played against in the league. And then there’s a few big names in there too, the likes of Erin Cuthbert.
“Of course they’d be a tough opponent, but we have to wait and see what happens in the first game first. If the Scotland-Ireland thing happened, it would be crazy because that’s a local derby, isn’t it?”
That, it is. How special it could be, the World Cup dream on the line at Hampden.
Whether back in the green jersey, or watching from the stands or her apartment in Italy, Farrelly will be a big part of it.
But make no qualms about it, there’s an Italian Job to be done first.
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The Irish international flying the flag in Serie A and chasing the World Cup dream
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