Niamh Fahey doesn’t take unnecessary risks, so when she quit a full-time job to pursue a dream of being a professional footballer it was a calculated move.
The Galway girl had already dipped her toe into those waters during eight seasons with Arsenal — winning an incredible 12 trophies — but there was always the burden of working part-time to supplement that lifestyle.
So when Chelsea offered the 27-year-old defender a chance to focus solely on football, she knew that stepping away from her job with a biopharmaceutical company was the right call to make.
Perhaps she will take a moment to reflect on that leap of faith today as she prepares to play in Wembley in front of a record crowd for women’s football in the FA Women’s Cup final against Notts County Ladies.
“I knew that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play full-time. It was going to be a new challenge with a new team, but it’s something I had wanted to do,” said Fahey.
By making that move Fahey joined a select crew of Republic of Ireland women’s internationals who are actually full-time professionals.
And one of the rewards to come from that is the chance to play in front of more than 30,000 fans in Wembley.
Another player who belongs to that exclusive club is Fiona O’Sullivan, who could be facing off against compatriot Fahey today if the striker gets the nod to start or come off the bench for Notts County.
With roots in Bantry, O’Sullivan has made stops in Sweden, France, Germany, and, now, England during a successful career but this final could present her with a valued winner’s medal.
Except Fahey will be trying to make sure that doesn’t happen. The two international teammates are friends off the pitch, but it will be “business as usual” once the first whistle sounds.
“When you step onto the pitch for the warm-up, you’re not thinking about friends or any ties you might have with someone — you’re there to take care of business and it’s cold-blooded like that,” said Fahey.
“It’s going to be a huge day. Having the game at Wembley for the first time is a massive thing and it puts more of a profile on the game and it means more to the players as well.” Women’s football continues to grow at a rapid pace in England and the recent success of their national team (finishing third in the World Cup) has led to a boost in attendances at Women’s Super League games.
Last year, the average attendance was 719, but those figures have shot up by almost 80% in recent weeks. Coupled with more media attention (both BBC and BT Sport dedicate shows to the league) and player development, women’s football is enjoying a boom period. Fahey has had a front row seat to watch the game grow and she believes that this trend is only going to continue considering more big clubs, like Chelsea and Manchester City, are pumping resources into their women’s teams.
“We have girls in our squad from South Korea, Sweden, and Portugal, not to mention the England internationals, so it’s a sign of how seriously the club are taking things,” said Fahey.
With those big signings come big expectations, so Emma Hayes — who is the only female manager in the league — knows that her team will be heavy favourites for today’s final against a physical Notts County side.
That suits Fahey just fine. She thrives on the challenge and making history in Wembley is part of why she made the move to full-time football.
Chelsea Ladies v Notts County Ladies, FA Women’s Cup Final, Wembley, 3pm (BBC 1 from 2.45pm).
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