It's hard to fathom that Leanne Kiernan is still only 22.
It’s 5½ years, after all, since she helped herself to a hat-trick in an FAI Cup final, before scoring the winner on her senior international debut three weeks later.
Since then? Peaks and troughs. But having helped Liverpool win promotion to the Super League last Sunday, she's currently located on the crest of a wave.
“After all the battles you go through, it feels like it’s worth it in the end,” she says. “This season has been like a breath of fresh air.”
And after the misery of an injury-plagued final year with West Ham, shin splints keeping her out of action for six months, the Cavan woman was in desperate need of some fresh air.
“Being out that long was hard, hard to keep motivated. But you just have to bring it back to ‘why do I play?’ I reminded myself of how much I love it, and I’ve loved it since I was seven or eight. So I worked hard in the gym every day to come back a better player.
“It helped that I got home for a few weeks, that broke it up, and while I was there I did a small course on pig farming, my dad’s business, which is what I want to do when I’m finished with football. It was something else to focus on.
“I’m proud that I got through it, happy to be where I am now. I left Cavan for London when I was only 19. It was just about growing up. You’re out of the family home, you’re on your own – you either grow up or you go home. I had to grow up. And I’ve hung in there, through the bad times.”
After being released by West Ham last summer she wasn't short of offers, but then she sat down with her father on a Zoom call with Liverpool manager Matt Beard.
“As soon as we hung up, Dad said ‘I think that’s the place for you’. And I respect him enough to trust his judgment, it just felt right.”
Beard was manager of West Ham when she signed for the club in the summer of 2018, so he knew better than most what she was capable of if she could stay injury-free.
His faith has been rewarded, in no little style – Kiernan is the club’s top scorer this season, her 12 goals including a remarkable six-minute hat-trick back in January, making her the Championship’s second-top scorer with two games to go.
“Lots of game time, no injuries, no nothing,” she says. “And like most people, I play my best football when I’m happy in myself. It’s just been an all-round great year, thank God. For us to get Liverpool promoted, up to where they belong because this is such a massive club, is a dream.”
“Everything about the move has worked out. London’s great – but it’s massive. Liverpool just felt more comfortable. And the boat’s right there, so I can get home whenever I want and my family come over a lot. I really like the city in general, the people are great, every second person I meet has an Irish accent.”
(You haven’t picked up the Scouse accent yet? “I wouldn’t be let back in to Cavan if I did.”)
It helped, too, that she has two Irish team-mates at Liverpool, Megan Campbell, who signed for the club in the same month, and her captain Niamh Fahey, who's been there since 2018.
“It was lovely knowing someone going in. Niamh is just genuine. She’s one of those people you meet in life who is just an all-round good person. She’s a bit of craic too, so there’s always going to be fun and games with her.”
Now to see if her club form earns her a role in next week's game against Sweden. So far, Kiernan has featured in just seven of Vera Pauw's 19 games in charge, starting only three and playing the full 90 minutes just once.
While her injury problems have contributed to that record, she remains one of a string of attacking players still vying for a regular place in the starting line-up.
"Sometimes it's just down to yourself, isn't it? And I do believe enough in myself that I can get back in. If you don't believe in yourself, how can you expect others to? Time and working hard will get me back in there, I hope. I've been there, I've started for Ireland, I've scored for Ireland, so I know I can get back if given a good chance. Hopefully I'll take it. I will take it."