Rianna Jarrett can vividly recall the turning point — an ultimatum issued by the fitness coach of the men’s Ireland’s senior team.
Something was up, and Dan Horan could sense it.
Snapping her cruciate once was unlucky, twice unfortunate, but the third time 15 months later felt like an injustice.
Mental strength was essential, but digging deep into the darkness to sustain the fortitude was proving a struggle. Three months into the rehab, the Ireland international hit the wall.
“Dan laid it all out on the table,” explains the Wexford native about their showdown in 2016.
“He asked if I was serious about recovering to become a professional footballer, or just mess around playing with my mates at home.
“It had pushed me to put limits. Following the operation in May, I got through June and July OK, but then started to wonder if I’d ever get back to a proper level. I was just going through the motions, wasting people’s time — others as well as mine. I needed to have a conversation with myself.”
Horan had experienced this syndrome before in other athletes, and knew that the immediate treatment was time. Jarrett heeded his plea for patience. A time-out of a week was prescribed.
Horan, who assisted Robbie Keane’s comeback from his Achilles troubles, summoned Jarrett to daily individual 7.30am sessions at Carlow Institute of Technology, where they were based as student and lecturer.
“It turned out that was I stronger than I thought,” she recounts with a sense of pride. “The resilience built up. Those difficult times have turned me into who I am today.”
And today Rianna Jarrett is a full-time footballer primed to lead the line for Ireland in Thursday’s Euro qualifier against Greece at a packed Tallaght Stadium.
Last Tuesday at Hayes Lane in South London, at the age of 25, Ireland’s top striker announced herself on the English scene by marking her debut for Brighton and Hove Albion by netting a brace against Crystal Palace.
That career path had long been mapped out since a decade ago when she was part of Ireland’s U17 team at the World Cup.
A conversation Jarrett had with fellow international Louise Quinn in Los Angeles in August proved the catalyst to making the jump from her hometown club, Wexford Youths.
“Playing consistently for two seasons got my fitness up and I felt it was time to take the next step,” says Jarrett.
“Louise put me in touch with her agent in London, but I was still untested. I thought the best way to go about moving abroad was creating a highlights reel that could be sent to clubs. We have access to all of our Wexford games through the Hudl app and I contacted Avenir Sports in Galway, who helped put the video together. I might be known as a striker, but there were other clips I picked from the 10 games to show my ability for the other side of the game, like tracking back.”
Brighton, a new force in the women’s league, were first to bite, offering a trial. Manager Hope Powell liked what she saw and the contract was signed four weeks ago. “It’s only a six-month deal for now, which suits both sides, but hopefully it can be extended in the summer.” Before she tries building on her FA Cup cameo by keeping in the side for the league campaign, Jarrett has some international matters to attend to.
Greece at home on Thursday is followed by a trip to Montenegro six days later for a double-header from which, she admits, all six points are essential.
Jarrett scored and created one in a 3-2 victory over second seeds Ukraine in October which puts them on course for a play-off into next year’s finals. Manager Vera Pauw kept her out of the 1-1 draw in Greece the following month following a niggle.
“I know my body well at this stage and felt a niggle in training. With my history, Vera wouldn’t risk it but I’m feeling fully fit.
“I’m in a good place. Regaining my love for the game helped me get here.”