Northern Ireland ace opens up about taking the sensible decision to look after No.1, but is now back and fully focused on international duty
Rebecca Holloway is loving life as an international footballer.
How could she not?
Five competitive appearances for Northern Ireland have brought five wins, she scored three times in the last two matches and on top of that is the rather exciting matter of this summer’s Women’s Euro 2022 finals to look forward to.
Living the dream would probably be a fitting description of Holloway’s time in a green shirt since making her debut against England this time last year.
That hasn’t always been the case though, even when it looked like everything was coming together for her in the summer of 2019.
After four years studying and playing football in the USA Rebecca decided it was time to come home. A two-year contract was signed with Birmingham City and a matter of weeks later she was called into the Northern Ireland squad for the opening Euro qualifiers against Norway and Wales.
It was all that any player could have wanted.
As Northern Ireland progressed towards a play-off place under Kenny Shiels, Holloway was looking on from the outside after taking a decision, that was, in some ways easy and in others difficult, to put herself before her international ambitions.
“I had just transitioned from America and found it really difficult — the adjustment moving from America back to England, getting thrown into my first professional contract and then all of a sudden I was away on camp with Northern Ireland.” said Holloway.
“It was a lot too quickly so I talked to Kenny and I had to say to him that I needed to focus on one thing at a time.
“Everyone knows mental health is a big thing within sport and sometimes you have to take care of yourself and that’s what I was doing at the time.
“I had a conversation with Kenny, said was it OK that I just focused on club football and then when I was feeling that the time was right to get ready for international again I would come back to him?
“Everyone also wants to perform at their best and at the time I didn’t think I was going to perform at my best, so it was definitely the right decision to just focus on my club before focusing on international as well.
“I did everything I could with Birmingham to then get back into the international squad when I felt ready, Kenny obviously recognised that, gave me the opportunity with the call up this time last year and I have been a regular member of the squad since, which I am very grateful for.”
The equilibrium that most people seek was nowhere to be found in Rebecca’s life after her move back across the Atlantic.
Downtime was virtually non-existent and much as she had a strong desire to add senior caps to those won at under-17 and under-19 level international football was the one thing that had to give as she tried to settle into a new life.
“The adjustment moving from America was a bit overwhelming,” said Rebecca.
“I didn’t get any time at home. I think the longest I spent with my family at that time was a week — maybe not even as long as that — and I was already straight into Birmingham.
“I was a brand new environment, I was then taken from this brand new environment where I was having to find housing, adjust to everything - it was a lot – and then I was travelling away for international games and I think it just all hit me.
“I thought the best decision for me was just to focus on club football and perform there before I then try to prove myself at international level.
“I definitely think I made the right choice. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t be part of that full journey throughout the Euro campaign, but I am glad that I still got to contribute in the very important ones against Ukraine.”
And contribute she did.
With long-term left-back Demi Vance out with a cruciate ligament injury manager Shiels had the luxury of being able to call upon a Women’s Super League regular to fill the gap when the biggest games in the history of the women’s international team came around last April.
Victory in both play-off legs made it a dream start to her career at the highest level.
Qualification for the Euros and the impressive form shown since that has put the team well in contention for a World Cup play-off place has brought about further recognition in the form of a nomination in the Elite category of the Belfast Telegraph Game Changers Award, in partnership with Electric Ireland.
“I was so nervous before that first game away,” recalled Rebecca.
“It’s very daunting playing away from home, especially at international level and obviously there was so much riding on it.
“As a team, while we knew there was a lot riding on it, we were just so proud of how far they have come.
“I know a lot of the girls, like Rachel Furness, Sarah McFadden, Ashley Hutton, Julie Nelson, who have literally been there from day one and I think they were just proud of the fact that they had made it that far.
“Everyone saw the tears of joy afterwards.”
Although born in England there will be no divided loyalties in the family come clashes against the English Lionesses in April’s World Cup qualifier and at the Euros.
Part of that is down to the fact that her parents were both born in South Africa, but a larger factor is her grandmother, through whom Rebecca qualifies to play for Northern Ireland.
She also played a major, yet inadvertent, part in her becoming an international.
“My gran on my mum’s side is from Ballymena and she still lives in Ballymoney, so I go every now and again when I can,” said Rebecca.
“I would visit her in the summer holidays quite frequently. We spent some Christmases there too and I was actually spending a lot of time in Northern Ireland.
“During a summer holiday I had a couple of weeks with my Gran and I got invited to play a football match. I can’t remember who it was with now, but Alfie Wylie (Shiels’ predecessor) was watching the game and he asked if I would be interested in coming along to a training session.
“I did and things just took off from there.
“It was pure chance really. I was definitely lucky that happened.”
And now, by virtue of more than just luck, it finally does seem that for Rebecca everything is coming together.