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Leanne Kiernan – Sportswoman of the Month for December

2016 proved an amazing year for the exciting Shelbourne and Republic of Ireland prospect

Shelbourne Ladies’ Leanne Kiernan celebrates scoring the second of her three goals against Wexford Youths in the FAI Cup final at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

The Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman Award for December: Leanne Kiernan (Soccer)

She won’t be 18 until April but even if Leanne Kiernan played football for another two decades she might struggle to match the year she just enjoyed with both club and country.

Mind you, 2017 has started promisingly enough, the Cavan teenager picking up from where she left off by scoring twice for the Irish U-19 side in Tuesday’s 4-0 friendly win away to Portugal.

Last year, though, was a tale of unrelenting success for Kiernan, her most memorable day on the club front when she scored a hat-trick for Shelbourne in their FAI Cup final victory over Wexford Youths at the Aviva Stadium, the cup holders having no answer to her pace and trickery.

There were plenty of other highlights in a stellar 12 months, Kiernan scoring the winner for Shelbourne against UCD Waves in the National League Cup final at Richmond Park earlier in the summer, before averaging a goal a game in their league campaign that ended in December with the title sealed.

Ten wins and two draws from their 12 games made for a comprehensive title success, the club’s first since merging with former champions Raheny United in 2015, Shelbourne finishing eight points clear of second-placed UCD. The year ended, then, with the trophy cabinet bulging.

But there were more awards to come, Kiernan nominated for both the FAI Senior and Young Player of the Year in December, while also being named in the team of the year, alongside club-mates Amanda McQuillan, Pearl Slattery, Noelle Murray and Siobhán Killeen.

In the end, Kiernan took the Young Player award, recognition not just for her performances for Shelbourne, but also for the impact she had at international level.

Irish career

Back in March she ended the U-17 phase of her Irish career by scoring the winner against France in the elite qualifying round of the European Championships, before moving up to U-19 level in October.

Her debut went rather well, too – she scored four in a 10-0 win over Macedonia in the opening game of the European Championships qualifying round, Ireland topping the group with further victories over Wales and Italy.

Kiernan added two more goals to her personal tally against the Welsh, while proving she can create chances just as comfortably, providing three assists in the campaign.

That success put the U-19s through to April’s elite qualifying round where they have been drawn with Finland, Scotland and Ukraine, their games in Portugal this month forming part of their build-up.

And despite her youth, Kiernan also earned a senior call-up in 2016, first coming into the squad for two challenge matches against Wales in Newport in August before making her competitive debut in what was coach Sue Ronan’s final match in charge, against the Basque Country at Tallaght Stadium.

Was she fazed by the step up?

Well, she won a free-kick at the edge of the box when her mazy run was ended unceremoniously end by a Basque defender, and Stephanie Roche put it away in style. And then she put her pace to work, speeding away from the Basque defence and slotting the ball home to give Ireland a 2-1 win and Ronan a successful send-off.

“It was the perfect end with the perfect performance, Leanne Kiernan was fantastic,” Ronan said of the youngster’s display which earned her the Player of the Match award.

The year ahead will be an even busier one for Kiernan with Shelbourne beginning the defence of their league title in March, the Women’s National League being played as a summer season for the first time, while there is also a Champions League campaign ahead after their 2016 success.

There’ll be plenty of international duty, too, between the U-19s and seniors. There’s also the small matter of the Leaving Cert which she will do this year, Kiernan hoping to do a degree in Agricultural Science. Then there’s all the commuting between Cavan and Dublin for training and matches.

Longer term, Kiernan has expressed the wish to play football professionally, following the path of several of her international colleagues playing in Britain and beyond, including Noelle Murray who has just left Shelbourne to sign for Glasgow City FC.

At 17, though, there’s time enough for those opportunities and choices to come along, and if she has another year like 2016, Kiernan won’t be short of them.