Leanne Kiernan has achieved a remarkable amount at a remarkably young age. Having only turned 21 a few weeks ago, most people at that age would have let it go to their heads. Her humility and modesty, for someone as evidently talented as her, is something that cannot be coached. Her upbringing on the family farm has ingrained a work ethic and toughness in her, that makes her want to constantly improve. Most importantly, that same work ethic has given her the chance to play at the very highest level and has offered her everything she has dreamed of.
“From an early age sport was huge in our house” explains the Bailieborough native. “Mam was a Camogie player and Dad was massively in to the GAA too. I tried every sport going, Gaelic, Soccer, Swimming and I was in the Athletics Club too, I loved Cross Country running. Every day of the week I was flat out going to some type of training!”.
Excelling at so many sports can only last so long, and Leanne knew she would have to focus on one sport alone, but was Soccer her first love?
“The GAA was my first love and still is, the thrill of popping a few balls over the bar, there’s nothing that can beat it!”, says the West Ham United star. “I remember that I had an Ulster Final with Cavan but couldn’t go because I had an Ireland Trial in soccer, that was the day I knew I had to make a decision. I chose soccer because I knew Gaelic would always be there if things didn’t work out with soccer.”
Amazingly, Leanne made her senior debut with Shelbourne in 2015 when she was just 15, scoring 5 goals in her first year. She then made her International debut one year later scoring on her competitive debut against the Basque Country. Leanne thrives under pressure and has proved time and again that she is capable of playing on the biggest stage.
“I try to take a laid back approach to it and just enjoy everything that comes, I’m my own biggest critic anyway so if I do make a mistake all I can do is just do my best the next time” she mentions. “Probably one of the best moments I have had in soccer was in the FAI Cup final when I scored the Hat-trick, I look forward to the big games. You play the sport to have the opportunity to have those moments.”
After that heroic performance in the cup final for Shelbourne, and a total of 37 goals scored over her first 3 seasons in Senior football, Leanne caught the attention of West Ham United. In most cases, the move across the water is a daunting challenge, but it’s certainly what every young soccer player in this country dreams of. For Leanne, that challenge was something to be relished.
“It’s as big a jump if not bigger than I had anticipated. In my eyes it’s the biggest league in Women’s football.” She points out. “I knew going over there that I was going to have to keep my head down and put in the work if I was to have any hope of making the team every week.”
For any 19 year old, moving away from home where she had spent all of her life, presents its own challenges. “It was tough at first” she admits. “Leaving behind your typical Cavan family, where Mam would always have your dinner ready, your room cleaned and clothes washed! I had to learn how to take care of myself which was a challenge but it’s something I’m used to now. I had to move out of my comfort zone in order to succeed.”
Representing your country is one of the greatest honours that can be bestowed to an athlete. “You’ll be playing for Ireland when you’re 18”, Leanne’s father always used to say to her, to which she would laugh at. Leanne went on to make her senior debut at 17 and scored on her competitive debut. “That was a huge day for me, to have my family there and make them proud was really special. It felt like I was repaying them for everything they did for me, bringing me up and down the road to Dublin for training for every week.”
Was it her greatest achievement to date? Not quite.
“100% my biggest achievement to date was winning ‘Irish International Player of the Year’ last year” she explains with a proud smile. “I was at the West Ham training ground and I was told there was a delivery for me…..I thought it was just clothes I had ordered online!” she jokes. “On my way out I picked up the delivery and threw it in to the car, and then realised it wasn’t clothes, it was a vase!”
“My friend opened it up and read what was on the vase, I didn’t believe her at all, I was so shocked but so happy at the same time! Mam and Dad were there too and it was so good to share that moment with them.”
With Covid-19 currently bringing a halt to all sporting activity, you would think somebody like Leanne would welcome a break from training. “NO!!” she says adamantly. “It was fine for the first few days or weeks but I can’t wait to get back to it and hopefully finish our season. Thankfully, I’ve been able to keep occupied at home on the farm during the day, then do my runs and gym work in the evening. We’re given a program each day to follow, it’s important that we’re ready for when football does resume, and I look forward to the day that it does!”