Women in Sport: Former Republic of Ireland Women’s National Team captain Emma Byrne
For the first instalment of our Women in Sport series, we hear from former Republic of Ireland Women's National Team captain and ex-Arsenal goalkeeper Emma Byrne on her decade-spanning sporting career.
Having spent 23 years proudly sporting the Irish colours before announcing her retirement in 2017, Kildare-native Emma Byrne was capped 134 times, and made history as the first woman inducted into the FAI’s Hall of Fame.
Having spent 17 years in goals for Arsenal Ladies, Byrne won a number of titles including FA Cups, League Cups, and — most excitingly — a Champions League title.
In addition to her achievements accomplished over her decade-spanning sporting career, Emma Byrne is also known for being an advocate for change and works tirelessly towards the betterment of Irish ladies’ football. From fighting for equality and fairness with their 2017 strike to collaborating with Cadbury’s on their ‘The Game is On’ initiative, which consists of a series of unique grassroots women’s football club posters, Byrne continues to strive towards a brighter future for women in sport.
Name: Emma Byrne.
Profession: Teacher/Football analyst and pundit.
Earliest sporting memory?
Playing badminton in my back garden.
How did you become involved in your sport?
I always kicked the ball about with my brothers, but I mainly got involved because my best friend’s mom helped manage the girls’ Leixlip United teams.
What message would you like to share with young women and girls interested in pursuing a career as an athlete?
Hard work and commitment pays off. There are so many rewards in participating in sports, be it mental or physical. It’s very important to enjoy what you’re doing also, so make sure to have fun!
Proudest moment so far…
The stance we all took in 2017 to improve female football in Ireland. We can already see the rewards, and I’m confident it will continue to improve.
The female athlete I admire most is…
Katherine Switzer, because she was the first woman to officially run the Boston marathon. She broke barriers that day.
Favourite sporting memory…
Winning the Champions League.
Do you think there is still a stigma around women in sport?
I think there’ll always be a certain group of people who are negative towards women’s football. Nevertheless, these people are becoming the minority and the Euros this summer proved this. There is a huge fan base now, and I think we should focus on those who support and appreciate it.
What is the biggest barrier to driving visibility in women’s sports?
Unfortunately, some of those people who don’t support women’s football are those who make decisions at clubs. Some clubs don’t provide the platform or facilities for women’s football to grow. That’s why I loved being part of Cadbury’s ‘The Game is On’ campaign, which aims to give grassroots women’s football more visibility and removing barriers to getting more people involved in women’s football, whether that’s as supporters, volunteers or players.
The biggest stigma/pre-conception that exists in women’s sport is…
That not enough people are interested in it for it to prosper.
My favourite pre-match meal was… Scrambled eggs and avocado.
My pre-game playlist includes… The Weeknd.
My daily routine is… Walk my dogs, eat, work, gym, walk my dogs, watch television.
My biggest sporting goal was…
To qualify for a major tournament with Ireland.
Sports brands I love (Irish or otherwise)…
Biggest splurge to celebrate a win…
Holiday to Dubai.
How do you mind your mental health?
Learning new things keeps my mind active.
My three desert island beauty products are:
Bobbi Brown moisturizer. Benefit eyebrow pencil. Yves Saint Laurent lip balm.
I need 8 hours of sleep a night because… otherwise, my brain doesn’t work properly.
Confidence to me is… being comfortable in your own skin.
How do you get over a bad match/performance?
Train. A good training session correcting your mistakes is all you need.
Lastly, why is sport such an integral part of community, on a club, local, national and personal level?
Sport is an extremely important part of our lives. It brings communities together and gives people a purpose and a focus. Your local club should be welcoming and like a second family. The sense of belonging is very important and beneficial, especially today, with all the pressures in life. A good community club can be that place for everyone.
Photography via Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile.