Leanne Kiernan: ‘Sometimes you have to take to a step back to take two steps forward’

After taking time out because of shin splints the Liverpool number nine is back in the goals

Leanne Kiernan in action for Ireland against the Ukraine. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Leanne Kiernan in action for Ireland against the Ukraine. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

 

Ideally, there is not a headline above this Leanne Kiernan interview that refers to the Liverpool striker being raised in a house of Red Devils.

“I have a lot of people who can’t even watch me play with Liverpool,” Kiernan mock whispers in the Castleknock hotel last Monday afternoon. “They are all big United fans at home. Even myself, I am a low-key United fan, which I don’t really put out there that often.”

Much like Wayne Rooney remained a low-key Toffee despite becoming an instant darling of the Stretford End or perhaps Figo low-key carried the pig’s head home for dinner after changing hues in El Clasico.

Liverpool fans will not care about her childhood allegiance if she bags the goals – three in six appearances so far – that drives them out of the Championship.

“Listen, I have had a bad time with injuries and thankfully that is in the past. I went into pre-season, getting back to myself, my personality is coming back and I’m just enjoying it. And when you are quite happy, it just works out for the best, doesn’t it?”

No truer a word has been uttered but, all the same, what was said on the farm in Killinkere, Co Cavan when you informed the clan of Liverpool’s interest?

“’Ah, Leanne, we are very happy for you but don’t dare come home with a jersey for us. You are with the wrong type of Reds.’”

Leanne Kiernan celebrates scoring for Liverpool Women during the FA Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup match against Aston Villa Women at Prenton Park in Birkenhead. Photograph: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images
Leanne Kiernan celebrates scoring for Liverpool Women during the FA Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup match against Aston Villa Women at Prenton Park in Birkenhead. Photograph: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

That jersey just happens to carry the same number stamped on the back of Ian Rush, Fernando Torres and currently Roberto Firmino.

“[Liverpool manager Matt Beard] rang me up and says ‘Leanne, I want to give you number nine.’ And I told him I am not sure I want it, ‘do you not have a bigger number, a 33 or something?’ I am quite a laid-back person, and like to be in the background and show what I am about on the pitch.

“I mentioned it to my dad, and he said ‘Are you silly? You got offered the number nine and you are not taking it? Take it, will you!’

“It was a nice treat getting the number nine, great that the coach believes in me like that, giving me that shirt, shows he has faith in me.”

Beard certainly has faith, having signed her as a teenager from Shelbourne in 2018 before this summer’s approach.

Shin splints grinded the former cross-country runner’s career to a halt last season. Also, Lucy Quinn’s arrival into the Ireland set-up kept Kiernan to a brief cameo in the now famous 3-2 defeat of Australia.

“It is not something that just goes away overnight. So, I played for maybe three or four months in absolute agony, and then I just put the hat in and said I couldn’t do it anymore. I took six months off completely, went home for a few weeks.”

Calling a timeout in the last year of her West Ham contract shows how risky life as a female professional footballer can be. Released in May, Beard snapped her up in June.

“I had to, I couldn’t walk. There were tears coming down from my eyes one day doing the warm-ups in training and I just thought that this is not right. And I was showing maybe 40 per cent of my ability compared to what I can show, it is not good for me, it is not good for the coach. Nobody is benefitting out of this.”

Again, John Kiernan intervened.

“I had a few more options on the side but my dad said straightaway, ‘Listen Leanne, I have a really good feeling about this and I think it’s a really good move for you’.

“I felt it myself but sometimes it’s quite handy when I have an opinion that I really respect, and that’s the case with dad and I took it.”

Liverpool, if they are serious about their women’s team, will not be outside the Super League for much longer.

“It was the best choice for me at the time and sometimes you have to take to a step back to maybe take two steps forward.”

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