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'I'm just enjoying it. Life's great' - Ireland's Liverpool star back on top after tough times

Leanne Kiernan: ‘If I didn’t enjoy the game, I wouldn’t be playing. I’d be back at home on the farm in Cavan.’

THE FRESH INK on Leanne Kiernan’s arm is rather striking.

“The new addition,” the Ireland and Liverpool star smiles, looking down at the name Paddy tattooed just below her bicep and just above the inner crease of her left arm.

leanne-kiernan Leanne Kiernan at a Republic of Ireland WNT media event earlier this week. Source: Brian Reilly-Troy/INPHO

It’s a tribute to her late brother, who was killed in a car accident in 2013.

Leanne and Paddy shared a special bond, one she has opened up about in recent times.

“He lived the best life he could, he smiled every day and enjoyed everything,” as she told The42 last summer. “I take that into my life.”

Kiernan’s tattoos serve as a constant reminder of just that. “I have his date of birth on the back of my arm, I always wanted to add to it but I just wasn’t sure where or what, but two years later, I eventually got it,” the 22-year-old beams.

“My brother got a big tattoo on his arm of Paddy. It was always something I really wanted but I just wasn’t sure where and when. I get asked a lot of questions like, ‘Why do you have your brother’s name on your arm and not your sister’s?’

“People sometimes don’t understand, and I’m not very open about talking about it. I think the longer it went on, maybe the better I am about thinking about him and how much of an impact he has on my life right now, which is really nice to see. I’m proud of what I had with him, so of course I want to show it off.”

In that same interview with this writer last summer, Kiernan spoke about honouring Paddy’s memory through her football; how she knows he is with her every step of the way, and how she wants to make him proud every single day.

“Even if I score a goal, I feel like I done that for him,” she said. “I know that sounds a bit crazy but it’s the way I think.”

You’d bet she’s been feeling and thinking that way a lot recently, having scored four times in three games for Liverpool leading into this international break.

liverpool-v-aston-villa-fa-womens-league-cup-group-a-prenton-park Kiernan celebrates a recent goal for Liverpool. Source: PA

It’s fair to say that the Cavan woman has fallen back in love with football after a really difficult period; her start to life on Merseyside nothing but phenomenal since her summer switch from West Ham.

That’s the obvious starting point as Kiernan settles into her seat at the Castleknock Hotel three days out from Ireland’s opening 2023 World Cup qualifier against Sweden. She’s exactly where she wants to be, fully fit and firing and enjoying one of the happiest periods of her young career so far.

“It’s always nice when you’re scoring as a striker, and getting lots of minutes. I’m playing most games with Liverpool and it was quite nice that the coach has faith in me.

“He gave me the number nine shirt and obviously there’s a good bit of pressure going in when you’re given that shirt. I’m just enjoying it. Life’s good. I can’t complain, life’s great at the minute.”

It wasn’t so great a little over two years ago as her relationship with football fractured and she wondered if she’d ever kick a ball again. Or this time last year, as her return was hampered by one injury setback after another.

Between shin splints derailing her 2020/21 Women’s Super League campaign in the very first game after a solid pre-season, and tearing her hamstring in her first Ireland camp back, “it was just one of them years, wasn’t it?” as Kiernan says herself. “But that’s the past and we’re now in the present and it’s been pretty good.”

It is important to reflect though, she nods, detailing her injury struggles. It’s been a sizeable challenge and a learning curve, to say the very least.

“It obviously has been tough. I’m still quite young. You’re seeing people my age that never get injuries and you’re like, ‘Why me?’ It’s just frustrating. The first game of last season, the shin splints came on and I’m quite ignorant, like, I want to run through the pain until I can’t run no more but obviously that doesn’t help either.

jamie-finn-and-leanne-kiernan-celebrate Kiernan (centre) with Jamie Finn and Heather Payne after beating Australia last month. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“It’s not nice. You’re stuck in a gym every day. You’re looking at yourself in the mirror and there’s only so many times you can listen to songs from Justin Bieber’s album,” she laughs.

“It’s definitely mentally made me stronger, and I’m definitely a better person from it. Obviously it’s not a nice thing to go through but it will probably be for the better now, hopefully. Keep banging in the goals, fingers crossed!”

If her recent form is anything to go by, that’s a given. With each and every word she utters it’s clear to see how much she’s enjoying life at the Reds under her former Hammers boss, Matt Beard, and alongside Irish team-mates, Niamh Fahey and Megan Campbell.

“The craic is ninety over there,” she grins. “It’s just been really good. A lot of things are about the environment you’re around and my environment’s great at the minute. It’s going really well.”

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“A lot of people ask me, ‘What is it like playing professional football, it’s obviously your job and everything,’” she later notes. “Listen, if I didn’t enjoy the game, I wouldn’t be playing. I’d be back at home on the farm in Cavan!

“But no, I just enjoy it, and I feel like when you enjoy things, it brings out the best in you as a person and you start playing well once you’re smiling and that. When your personal life is good, it just kind of falls into place.”

At the weekend, Kiernan watched from afar as her former Gaelic football team, Balieborough Shamrocks, won the Cavan intermediate championship. “The Shamrocks will always have a great place in my heart,” she smiles, delighted for all of her friends and hoping to return to those roots in later years.

leanne-kiernan Kiernan on the ball for Ireland in 2019. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

But she’s more than content with the path that she’s on right now, and the current upward trajectory of her career.

With all eyes on Vera Pauw’s Girls In Green as they open a new bid to reach a first-ever major tournament against Sweden on Thursday, Kiernan will hope to bring her stunning club form to her country, and make her impact felt on the international stage once again.

Friends are scrambling for tickets for the sold-out show, and plans are in place for her family to make the trip up from the Breffni county. A monumental challenge lies ahead, but it should certainly be an interesting one.

“We respect how good Sweden are and we know that they’re top two in the world at the moment,” Kiernan concludes. “We’ll focus on our game plan and we’ll work during the week on what we’re about in training, and obviously try catch them on their weaknesses.

“But obviously being a top-two team in the world, they’re not going to have many of them. We know what we’re about and we’re looking forward to a full crowd in Tallaght screaming our names.”

And, of course, that special name tattooed on her arm will drive her on too. As always.

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Emma Duffy

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