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An interview with Emma Byrne

Players from the Republic of Ireland Women’s National Team revealed the awful conditions they have had to work under as representatives of our country, as Dublin’s Liberty Hall played host to an unprecedented press conference.

Decorated international players such as Emma Byrne, Stephanie Roche, Aine O’Gorman and more told their stories of travelling with the team.

The team // Donagh Corby

Amongst a variety of other issues, the players said they were forced to change in airport bathrooms, return their FAI-issued tracksuits and lose thousands of euro taking time off work. The stories emerged during an almost-hour-long press conference, organised Tuesday by SIPTU and the Professional Footballers Association of Ireland (PFAI).

Speaking after the event exclusively with The Liberty, Ireland captain Emma Byrne said these issues had long been brewing. “Once you’re here such a long time it’s nearly institutionalised,” she said.

“You forget about things. Just the sheer honour of playing for your country was our passion and we were maybe too driven to realize that some things were definitely wrong.”

Byrne became famous during her trophy-laden 16 years at Arsenal Ladies, which came to an end last year. She had teammates from all over the world, but never has she encountered a player with stories from international duty like hers.

“Not many players have issues like we [the Ireland team] have. They actually think some of the things we have to do are quite funny.

“I think it’s part of our personalities though, we’d tell a story and have a laugh about it, we’d try to take it lightly.”

The Ireland captain cites Abby Wambach and the Australian Women’s National Team as influences for this stance, and admits that she is trying to set an example for the young women of today’s Ireland who want to follow in her footsteps. “Personally, I’m doing this for the younger generation. I’m not sure who they’re going to have fighting for them.

“We’re really lucky to be working with the PFAI… They’ve been wonderful for us and given us confidence. They’ve been working 24 hours around the clock for this… Over the last year they’ve been collecting all the evidence, finding out our individual issues, which takes a lot of work and effort and it’s vital that they’re representing us. We trust them, we know they’ve got our best interests at heart.

“They know us as people… We’re here so we can play football for our country and 100% commit to every camp.”

The issues, according to Byrne, have been there since her early days in the Ireland set-up. There was no specific moment when the players decided to act, but the gradual help of the PFAI helped them to gain confidence to properly negotiate with the FAI. “They can give us advice. We’ve been saying you know ‘we want to do this, we don’t want to do that,’ and they can help us with these things. We wanted it low-key, which obviously hasn’t happened!”

This article was written on Tuesday afternoon, and the FAI and the Women’s National Team have since come to an agreement on their terms.

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