The comeback queen: Brighton’s Rianna Jarrett on the injuries and recoveries that made her

Rianna Jarrett talks to Ali Rampling about her ACL nightmare, plus the switch from a humdrum nine-to-five to pro football in the WSL. 

Rianna Jarrett in action for Brighton & Hove Albion (Photo: Kyle Hemsley/BHAFC)

Fortunate is not a word you would traditionally use to describe Rianna Jarrett. 

By the age of 22, the striker’s career had already been disrupted by three separate ACL injuries – one of which came nine minutes into her Republic of Ireland senior debut – before her first shot at professional football was disrupted by a pandemic.

Following a brief trial at Brighton in January 2020, she had been handed a short-term, six-month deal by the Seagulls. She played once, scored twice, and then coronavirus intervened.

But come June 2020, in a scene that can only be described as something reminiscent of the judges’ houses stage in the X Factor, Jarrett branded herself as “fortunate” after discovering that she was being offered a full 12-month professional contract with Brighton.

The forward was in her Wexford garden back in her native Ireland, the sun beating down, as she waited for the Zoom call that would determine whether or not she was in the Seagulls’ plans for the following season.

“In the back of my mind there was that uncertainty because for me I didn’t feel I had shown what I can do, shown the real side to me on the pitch,” recalled Jarrett. “It was kind of a ‘heart in the mouth’ kind of thing.

“I’m fortunate enough that they saw something in me either before they signed me or in those couple of weeks that I was there to give me the opportunity. I’m just looking to repay the favour now and showing what I can do at this level.”

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Just four years earlier, Jarrett had been contemplating giving the game up for good. Having battled back from two ACL injuries to her right knee – the first in April 2013, the second in January 2015, cutting short her US college experience with Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks – the forward was handed her maiden Republic of Ireland cap against Italy at the 2016 Cyprus Cup.

However, within nine minutes of entering the fray she had to be replaced; her left knee this time was the victim of another ACL injury.  

“There was a week or two where I didn’t know if I wanted to get back playing or not,” Jarrett admitted. “But from going to training, going to matches still, being around my friends, being around my team-mates, I realised I just wanted to be back playing, wanting to be back having fun.

“It was more just an internal debate. I had a conversation with my physio Dan and he asked me what I wanted from the recovery. I told him at the minute I just want to get back to enjoy football for fun, so with my brothers or with my friends on the street. 

“But then about two weeks later he was like, ‘We’ll have that same conversation’ and my whole mindset had changed. I was like, ‘Who am I kidding? Of course I want to be out there playing with my club. If possible, further down the line, I want to play for Ireland again’.”

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Jarrett would indeed play for Ireland again, netting her first international goal during her side’s 3-2 win over Ukraine in October 2019. She admits that forcing herself back into contention for the national side means the memory of her 2016 debut isn’t quite so tainted by the injury.

“It was kind of mixed emotions,” Jarrett said. “Obviously, I was delighted to be involved in that [2016] international camp, I was delighted to come on in that game. To be involved in that international setup, I was thankful for it — but for me the biggest thing was being able to get back involved in it after doing my ACL for the third time. 

“So when I think of my debut and I think of the excitement I had in terms of playing, it is outshone by the fact I did my knee again. But thankfully it wasn’t my one and only opportunity. I think if that had been my one and only opportunity, it would have been a different conversation we’re having now.”

It was a conversation with a team-mate at international level that helped to set Jarrett on her way to the WSL.

Prior to her move to Brighton, who face Man City is the WSL today, Jarrett had been plying her trade with Irish National League side Wexford Youths and juggling her playing career with a nine-to-five office job at a credit reference agency.

Fellow Republic of Ireland star Louise Quinn had already made the jump from the Irish National League to the professional game, and the centre-back linked Jarrett up with her agent. Within two months of her season with Wexford Youths finishing, Jarrett had earned her first professional contract with Brighton and had traded office work for a full-time football career.

“I was fortunate enough that they [Brighton] took the leap of faith. It’s completely different from what I’m used to but I’m loving every minute of it,” said Jarrett. “I’ve had to learn to adapt in terms of fitness, physicality, the speed of the game, the speed of my thoughts on the pitch, but I’m thankful that I’ve been able to do it on a daily basis.

“All my time and energy is now based on playing and training in a full-time environment which is completely different to the one I’m used to. From working eight-nine hours a day then having to find the time to do the extra training and the travelling to training, it’s a breath of fresh air.”

With that kind of attitude and work ethic, it’s Brighton who are the fortunate ones to have Jarrett. 

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