Injury and the odd soccer regret, but Longford's finest is delighted to be back with her first love
By Daragh Small
Just over two months after she helped Longford to a Lidl NFL Division 3 semi-final, Michelle Farrell was making her international debut for Ireland for the second time.
Already capped at underage level on the soccer fields, the Colmcille club player joined forces with the Irish Banshees as they took home the honours at the 2019 AFL Euro Cup in Norrtalje, Sweden.
The multi-talented Farrell, who was also selected on the Lidl NFL Division 3 Team of the League in May, will turn her attention back to her first love and the round-robin phase of the TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Football Championship on Sunday when Longford host Wicklow in Group 2.
But Farrell was delighted to test her skills internationally against Germany, Wales, Croatia, Sweden and eventually the England Vixens, where she scored two goals, in a 6-7 to 2-1 victory in the final on 29 June.
“That was a bit of a random thing that I came across,” said Farrell. “It takes a bit of time to get used to it but it was competitive. Everybody who was there was there to do well.
“In terms of playing the other European countries we had the advantage of having the Gaelic football experience. When you are under pressure on the field you go back to your normal GAA kicking, whatever way is most comfortable.
“We were generally faster and better on the ball, and it comes back to showing there is a really high level of footballing talent in Ireland.”
There was little doubt that Farrell would end up playing Ladies football, coming from a sports-mad household, where her four older brothers all played Gaelic football for the local Colmcille club.
And there was a path to follow to the inter-county team too as brothers Noel and Declan Farrell were on the Longford minor side that broke a 64-year wait when they beat Meath in the 2002 Leinster final.
In her early years, Farrell played both Ladies football and soccer to the top level. She was a teammate of current Ireland senior captain Katie McCabe on Irish schools teams, but she chose to opt for Ladies football instead, after a ruptured quad ended her international career at U-17 level.
“You would have a little bit of a regret when you have played alongside the girls,” said Farrell.
“I always got on well beside them on the field. It’s tough when you see them doing so well. But at the time I was always torn between Gaelic and the soccer. I was from the country and more of a GAA community so that probably swayed things.
“The whole logistics of it was a big thing. I would have to have made the choice of playing Gaelic with Longford or soccer with a club in Dublin. I preferred the Ladies football at the time and stuck with it.”
The loss to Irish soccer has been a gain for Longford and Farrell’s club Colmcille. While still a county U16, she won a Leinster JFC title with her club in 2011 and they backed up that success by becoming Longford intermediate champions in 2012. Farrell also has a Leinster Young Player of the Year award to her name, as well as back-to-back Leinster IFC inter-county wins in 2013 and ’14, the 2016 TG4 Junior All-Ireland and the Lidl Division 4 league title in 2017. Quite the impressive playing CV at the age of 24.
Currently employed as an operations manager at Lir Analytical in Longford, work duties and her busy training schedule mean she has become an expert at managing her time, but she is excited about what the summer of 2019 holds.
Defeat to Kildare in the Leinster IFC quarter-final meant that Enda Sheridan’s side were handed a group of death in the All-Ireland stages where they will take on TG4 Munster champions Tipperary and Lidl NFL Division 3 winners Meath.
But Wicklow are first up at Pearse Park tomorrow, and the influential centre-forward knows she needs to take centre stage.
“We do have to win this one,” said Farrell. “It is the kind of thing where you are looking at a really strong group and you know you have to beat Wicklow. But Wicklow are a tough team to beat, and throughout the years we always came across them in championships and it can go either way.
“We played them earlier in the league and had a really good game against them, probably our best game all year. But championship football is always that much better. We are playing on better ground. And we are a small fast team, it suits us.”