Shel-shocking the Aviva and a dazzling year in green: Leanne Kiernan's 2016

The 17-year-old sensation has had a year to remember.

A 18OKM ROUND-trip — give or take — four times a week.

She leaves the house at 5pm after school and isn’t back until half 11, and that’s without even considering the intense two hour training session in Morton Stadium in between.

Leanne Kiernan celebrates scoring Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Originally from Balieborough in Co. Cavan, Leanne Kiernan lines out with Shelbourne in the Women’s National League.

“I usually go up and down to Dublin with my dad Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and a game at the weekend, usually on a Sunday,” she tells The42. “I don’t have much time, and usually I train on the days I’m off too. I’d go for a run or something and do my own thing at home.

“You get used to it. You’d only notice the tiredness when you stop. These days with the Christmas break, I’m wrecked and sleeping in until nearly two every day!

“It gives you something to do. In the evening’s you’d be bored. I don’t know what to do now when I’m off.”

And this is all while in her Leaving Cert year. How’s that going for the 17-year-old?

“It’s going ok. It is tough to balance soccer and school. I suppose you can make it an excuse, which I do at times, but now in the new year I’ll have to put my head down.

“I’m hoping to go to college in either UCD or Dundalk, to do Agricultural Science. I really like it, and as they say ‘do what you like’.”

The prospect of going to college in UCD throws a spanner in the works for the teenage sensation however. If she was to be offered a scholarship, she’d have to switch allegiances to UCD Waves.

It’s something Kiernan isn’t thinking about at the minute though, as she has her sights set firmly on next season with Shelbourne.

This year was an exceptional one for the north Dublin side, as they won the double. They were crowned league champions for the first time in the club’s history and they defeated Wexford Youths in the Aviva to take home the WFAI Cup.

The striker was pivotal for the Red Pandas on that November day as she hit the headlines, scoring a hat-trick to seal the win.

“It was a great year, and a great experience. Probably the best part was winning the cup final in the Aviva and getting the three goals. It was great to have all of the family there and all my friends around me too.”

Leanne Kiernan celebrates scoring Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Kiernan’s modesty shines through as she recalls how her teammates offered her the chance to complete her hat-trick with a penalty in the later stages of the game.

“I don’t know if that was a good idea at the time, I usually miss. Thank God I scored that day though. I never usually take the penalties, I practice in training and I put every one of them wide,” she laughs.

“I’m probably around the second youngest on the team. The older girls are so experienced and they’re always giving me tips, which works out well because it improves my game.

“We finished on a high this year, winning the double, so we’re going into next year now with Champions League football, which is amazing.”

Not only was it a successful year on the club scene for Kiernan, she also broke boundaries on the international front.

A central and established member of the U19 set-up, Kiernan was given the nod by Sue Ronan and called into the senior side for a friendly match against the Basque Country.

“I was shocked to even get starting because it was my first cap, but it went well I suppose.”

There’s the modesty again. Not only did it go well, she scored a goal on her debut.

Kiernan rarely lets a match pass without finding the back of the net. The U19 squad were in Macedonia in October for the group stages of the European Championships and the star striker scored six goals in just three games.

She insists that she owes it all to her teammates though, when complimented on her endeavours.

“All of the girls are very good to play around so they kind of support you and help you score goals. They’re all very supportive and great to play with. The coaching set-up helps too obviously, it’s the best of the best.

“There’s maybe six or seven of the Shelbourne girls in with me too, so I get on really well with them all and I love going away with them. It helps, only for them.

“We have a training camp in Portugal on the 19th January. Our Elite Stage of the Europeans then is in April and it’s being hosted in Ireland. It should be good, we’ll get a good crowd at it hopefully.”

Also a talented gaelic footballer, Kiernan has had to make several sacrifices in her own life over the past while to put soccer first.

“I’ve had to drop the gaelic completely. It wouldn’t have been fair going in with excuses and playing a game here and there. Definitely, it was a really tough decision. I love gaelic and if I ever have the chance I’ll definitely go back, but it’s not possible at the minute.

“Then there’s the lack of a social life. You can’t go out on a Friday night because you have a game on the Saturday or Sunday. All my friends are like ‘would you not just ditch this one game and go out?’ but it’s not like that. You can’t just ditch one game. It’s that serious, if you miss a training session you could be off the team.

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“I don’t mind it though, hopefully it’s all worth it.”

At the minute, everything seems to be going in the right direction anyway.

Leanne Kiernan with Marta Unzue Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

When asked about what it’s like to play with names like Stephanie Roche and Katie McCabe, Kiernan doesn’t hesitate to sing their praises.

“They are the highest of the highest level players, and it’s great that I have the chance to experience playing alongside them. I would have never dreamed to be playing with those high players, but it’s working out well and hopefully if I keep my head down and get the right coaching, it’ll turn out well.”

The 17-year-old adds that she’d love to follow their footsteps overseas some day.

“If I ever got offered anything in England I’d definitely take it. You have to get offered it first though. There is some hope, and the opportunities are there but I have to work.”

Roche previously told The42 that she could see the Cavan teen making the move at some stage.

“There’s a lot of talented players in Ireland. There’s a lot of players that I think could go over (to England), there’s girls my age who probably regret not going over so I’d like to see a couple of the girls go over but it has to be the right decision for them.

“Leanne is only 17 and she needs to make sure that she has her education sorted out before she makes a decision because women’s football unfortunately hasn’t got that stability and it hasn’t got that financial reward that you can rely on when you come back. But I can definitely see her playing over there in the future.”

Former Ireland manager Sue Ronan is another one who has sung Kiernan’s praises in recent times.

“I’ve been watching her over the last year and she just exploded onto the scene. I’ve watched her in the league and she terrorised defences with her pace,” she told The42 ahead of her last game in charge and Kiernan’s senior debut in November.

“Shelbourne have a lot of talented players who can release the likes of Leanne, she’s such a skilful player as well as a pacey player so I’m not surprised she did damage that day (WFAI Cup Final), she’s a talent.”

One thing’s for sure though, Leanne Kiernan is a name that broke the Irish women’s soccer scene in 2016, and at this rate she’s sure to continue to make waves over the coming months and years.

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