Chelsea stopper Niamh Fahey turns attention from TV to retaining title

All-Ireland football winner returns to natural habitat having spent time on pundit’s couch

Chelsea and Ireland defender Niamh Fahey. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

Chelsea and Ireland defender Niamh Fahey. Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

 

There aren’t many Irish sportswomen who have enjoyed as much success as Niamh Fahey. Fahey (28) was a member of the Galway team that won its first senior All-Ireland football title in 2004 before moving to Arsenal four years later to pursue her other footballing love. She won all that there was to be won – multiple times – before moving to Chelsea in December 2014 for the chance to become a full-time professional.

The three-time FAI International Player of the Year enjoyed yet more success at her new club, being named in last season’s Super League team of the year for her performances at the heart of the title-winning side’s defence. After a month-long break, Chelsea have resumed their attempt to retain their title, currently two points adrift of Manchester City but with a game in hand. Before returning to action with her club, Fahey made her punditry debut on RTÉ on their Euro 2016 highlights programme.

Which is harder – being a Euro 2016 pundit or playing in defence in the English Super League?

Well, I’d never done punditry before so the unfamiliar is always a bit scary – at least I’m on familiar ground when I’m playing football, less so talking about it. I was very nervous. I was like a swan – calm enough on top, but underneath flapping away. But the experience was great. Well, apart from the keepie-uppies which didn’t go well. I might have said ‘shit’ live on television.

So, what about Euro 2016, how would you rate it?

I’ve really enjoyed it. I know people were saying a lot of the games were a bit bland at the start, but the amount of surprises has been savage, and then you’ve had the usual quality teams coming through, so I think it’s probably been one of the better tournaments.

How about Ireland?

They got a lot of stick after the Belgium game but apart from that the performances were top drawer. They just ran out steam against France, but they were great value for money. It looks good for the future with players like Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick and Shane Duffy, with people like Harry Arter and Alan Judge to come back in after their injuries. That’s the basis of a good team.

Or “Braaaaaaaaady u ledge bag!”, as you tweeted when he got that goal. Apart from him, then, who have been your star players?

I was just literally focusing on the Italian back three, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci – they were just immense, I really enjoyed watching them. Pepe too, I know he’s a bit of a maverick, but he’s been outstanding. But those Italian defenders, I could watch them forever.

So, your season is up and running again after the break, you can go back to the top if you win your game in hand on Manchester City – but with two tricky ones coming up, Birmingham City (third) on Sunday and a week later Arsenal (fourth).

The league is so competitive now, so tight. We got done in the cup a few days ago [Chelsea lost on penalties in the Continental Cup to London Bees, who they beat 8-0 last season] so you can’t afford to be complacent in to any game. And that’s great. In the past it wasn’t like that, you want the games to be competitive and to have to really earn that title.

Positive, too, is BT Sport’s coverage of your games. They’ll be showing the Birmingham and Arsenal ones live.

It’s brilliant, BT have really come on board, and they’re no Mickey Mouse set-up either. And the BBC has The Women’s Football Show, so there’s a lot of media attention now that just wasn’t there in the past. It’s a big boost.

You’re a full-time professional, but you’re keeping your hand in with your old job. (Fahey worked for a biopharmaceutical company after graduating from the University of Hertfordshire with a degree in science.)

I am, I still do 10 hours a week working in a lab just to keep me ticking over. I did find it a big jump to go from a nine to five to just a few hours training every day. It’s not mentally stimulating. I just thought I had a lot of free time and I could do other things and not just be watching Netflix all the time. It can be so hard for players to adjust when they retire so I’m hoping this will make it easier. Being a full-time professional is great but you’re totally immersed in it, everything becomes football and you need to step outside that.

You said before that you planned on coming home when you finish your career – do you fancy winning another All-Ireland medal?

Ha, I wouldn’t say no! I always said I’d love to play Gaelic when I finish here, if I’m not too long in the tooth by the time I’m done. Another All-Ireland medal would be nice, but they’re not easily come by.

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