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23rd Mar 2024

Abbie Larkin and Izzy Atkinson, living their dream and chasing down new ones

Patrick McCarry

Abbie Larkin

“She’s laughing at me, and I’m being nice!”

Abbie Larkin and Izzy Atkinson are not long in from the training field and have each other for back-up in our midweek chat, over Zoom.

The Ireland internationals are relatively new recruits at Crystal Palace and are already eyeing a leap to the Women’s Super League. Palace lie second in the Championship (WSL 2) and have a game in hand on leaders Sunderland, with five matches to go. It could all come down to a final day run-in between the two sides.

The Palace squad have Atkinson, Larkin and Hayley Nolan, another Ireland international, on their books and their playing squad is supplemented with some decent loan signings from Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United. Atkinson joined Palace from a struggling West Ham side and hit the ground running, picking up Championship Player of the Month, for February. Larkin had a short stint with Glasgow City, after moving from Shamrock Rovers, and arrived around the same time as her good friend, and teammate.

“I’ve always wanted to play in London,” says Larkin, “so this is one of my dreams.” Larkin is sharing an apartment with teammates Keira Barry (on loan from United) and Nolan. The plan is for the two of them, and another teammate, to share a flat together, next season, hopefully as WSL players. “She’s about five minutes away,” says Atkinson of Larkin, “but we might as well live together. She’s always over. Never leaves me alone.”

The duo, when we spoke with them, were just back from Ireland camp – draw with Italy and home loss to Wales – and both are enthused at the changes Eileen Gleeson has brought in, since taking over from Vera Pauw. “We all love Eil-o.

“She’s just really positive with us and lets us play with freedom, and we weren’t really used to that in the past. She just backs us. Obviously, as a nation, we’ve always really been the underdogs and I feel like, as time goes on, that’s becoming less of a thing. We actually go want to win every game now, which is so different to a while back.”

Abbie Larkin

‘For the rest of my days, I’ll always be able to say that’

Isibeal ‘Izzy’ Atkinson started out playing football in Rush, in north Dublin, and played with the boys team, there, until she was 13. A rule prevented her, and other girls, from continuing on in mixed teams with her friends, so it was a two-hour round-trip to Enniskerry with a new team.

“To be honest, I’ve had so many special people that have helped me along the way. One of my primary school teachers that used to coach me, still is in touch. So is the first manager, from when I started playing with the boys, when I was six. But if I had to pick one person out, it would be my dad.”

Fergus Atkinson was a handy player, in his day, and was part of a decent St Kevin’s Boys side. To Izzy, he is a sounding board and the person who’s opinion she values most when it comes to football. “It’s always my dad,” she says. “With football, if I have a bad game, or if I’m unhappy, my dad’s the only person that I can really listen to, and not be offended.

“I would also trust him more than anyone because I’m very hard on myself. I set myself these big expectations. But when he says anything to me, I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, fair enough’. He’s the only one that I would really listen to. He’s genuinely been my best friend in football, my whole life. So, it’s his dream as much as mine, to achieve everything I want. It’s been special.”

When Atkinson was 16, she signed with Shelbourne. She was most definitely on the international radar, by then, and recalls being in training camps for the U16s, U17s, U19s and seniors, all around the same time. “I just missed so much school to the point where the teachers almost gave up on me there! They would give me extra work to catch up, but it would be tough. They understood where I was coming from, so ended up being so supportive.”

Abbie Larkin hails from Ringsend and played youth football with Cambridge FC and Home Harm before Shelbourne signed her up.

She credits Casey McQuillan – Director of Football for the women’s and girl’s academy section at the club – for ‘definitely helping me, quite a lot’. “He still keeps in touch,” she says, “and I’d class him as a close friend, to be able to speak about whatever I have going on, and give me advice. He helped me through, in those early years at Shels. Told me to keep my head up, and stuff, when times were hard. He’s definitely been the number one person for me and, obviously my family. They’ve got to be right up there, as well.”

Both players were 16 when they made their senior Ireland debuts. Atkinson can remember the exact date – January 22nd, 2018. June 12th, that same year, was her competitive debut, against Norway. “I actually got booked coming on, on my debut. I was booked as I ran onto the pitch too early. They had to wave for me to come on but I couldn’t wait, ran onto the pitch and got a yellow card! 10 seconds in.

“I like ticking stuff off, though. 16 is the youngest year you can make your (senior) debut. For the rest of my days, I’ll always be able to say that. Stuff like that is special.”

“I was 16 when I was called in by Vera (Pauw) for the Pinatar Cup,” Larkin adds. “It was a great first camp to come into. The vibes were very chill, and everyone was so friendly. It wasn’t that competitive, that cup, so it was nice and relaxed. In Spain, too, so the good weather makes everyone happy!”

Larkin, because of her age, had to get her parents to sign a permission slip so that she could travel abroad with the team, for her senior debut, in 2022. “Yeah, that’s true,” she confirms. “Thankfully, I don’t need all that now.”

Still aged only 18 and 22, respectively, we ask Larkin and Atkinson who their early role models were.

Atkinson cites Diane Caldwell, Ainé O’Gorman and Denise O’Sullivan – “the smallest player on the pitch and she’s the strongest one” – while Larkin nods, beside her. “The likes of Katie (McCabe) and Denise were my role models, when I was younger, and they still are, even though we play together. I’d also look up to the likes of Vivianne Miedema, Beth Mead and Lauren James.”

Abbie Larkin
Pictured are, from left, Katie McCabe wearing the jersey of Kilnamanagh AFC; Diane Caldwell wearing the jersey of Balbriggan FC; Izzy Atkinson wearing the jersey of Rush Athletic FC; Jamie Finn wearing the jersey of Swords Manor FC; Chloe Mustaki wearing the jersey of Park Celtic FC; and Abbie Larkin wearing the jersey of Cambridge FC. (Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile)

Abbie Larkin and Izzy Atkinson on friendship, and shared goals

Celtic came calling for Atkinson, in 2021 and she played a year there until the move to West Ham. “Even though West Ham is a league above us, I feel like this has been an absolute blessing, coming here. This club is unbelievable, in what we’re looking like and aiming for. It’s just so different to what I’ve had in the past, with the winning mentality here, the professionalism and with all the little things we do, on and off the pitch.”

It helps the pair, both finding their feet and a new and ambitious club, to be there for each other.

“She just knows how highly I think of her,” says Atkinson of Larkin. “See, she’s laughing at me and I’m being nice! I do love her. Sometimes she doubts herself but she just needs to know her own worth. She’s been doing so well since coming here. She’ll pick me up when I’m down, and I’ll pick her up when she’s down. She’s my best friend. She’s… like, my teammate but she’s my best friend.

Asked to return the favour, Larkin studies Atkinson, smiles, and begins, “There’s actually a lot of things that I could say but, like, I need to just think!

“She’s one of my best friends,” Larkin continues. “She just has this drive, like, I don’t know how to explain it! She’s just gonna keep laughing because I’m trying to explain it… but I don’t really know how to explain it!

“It’s like this winner’s mentality. Not that many players actually have it, like she does. Off the pitch, she is almost like a different person. Not completely different, but when she comes on, she’s like switched on straight away. Honestly, it’s really something to look up to.”

As Atkinson, arms crossed, blushes beside her friend, Larkin turns to her – “You’re never often asked these questions. That just came on top of my head. I actually just thought of that! But, no, I am proud of her. She’s been doing so well.”

Abbie Larkin
Abbie Larkin (l) with Louise Quinn and Izzy Atkinson (r). (Credit: Sportsfile)

‘We both want to get promoted. That’s the dream’

In terms of what is next, Crystal Palace have their promotion fate in their own hands, with that game in hand over Sunderland and three of their final five matches at home. All around them, in Ireland, England and at the World Cup, they are seeing a game improving, and blooming.

“In the WSL, Arsenal sold out The Emirates, twice in a row,” notes Atkinson.

“That’s unbelievable,” says Larkin. “I think it should be like that as well… it’s definitely growing.”

The World Cup has helped raise the profile of the team, and many of the players. TV cameras, photographers and reporters flooded to Larkin’s festooned home patch as she made her strides, Down Under, on the world stage. Ireland acquitted themselves well in their first ever World Cup, pushing Australia and Canada close before drawing with Nigeria. Ringsend was party central for most of Ireland’s time in Oz.

“I didn’t even know there was that many Larkins, to be honest with you!” she remarks. “That was class, though. They must have been coming for miles because Ringsend is quite a small place.”

Larkin was watching the closing stages of the Euro 2025 draw, recently, as Ireland were drawn to face heavyweights Sweden, France and England. “Yeah, it’s gonna be a challenge but that’s what we need to push on.”

“We’d be up for it, though, no matter who we play,” Atkinson cuts in. “Straight away, people are probably going to doubt us, but we are going to be up for it.”

Ireland will play a couple of those big qualifiers at Aviva Stadium and will be hoping to draw in even greater numbers than the record crowd of 35,944 that headed along to see their 3-0 win over Northern Ireland, last September.

Before all that, they have a job to do for Palace. Watford are coming to Selhurst Park, this Sunday, and the club has already sold a record number of tickets.

“The first day I got here,” says Atkinson, “All I was thinking was, ‘I want to get promoted’. Touch wood, it is so possible. If we just take it day by day, and game by game, I think we can really do it. We definitely believe we can. We’ve been playing really well and the girls, even before we came, have been performing and it’s shown on the league table.

“So yeah, we definitely,” she adds, before pausing to look at Larkin, “I can speak for Abbie, as well. We both want to get promoted. That’s the dream.”


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