CARRY ON KIERNAN
Leanne Kiernan’s move to England with West Ham United in 2018 was a considerable step for a 19-year-old. It wouldn’t be true to say it has been a breeze ever since for the Republic of Ireland forward, but as her three years as a Hammer drew to a close, she ultimately chose to continue on her way in English football.
It takes her to a Liverpool team with a familiar character at the helm. Ex-West Ham boss Matt Beard recently returned to the Reds, as he aims to lead the club that he twice made FA WSL champions (in 2013 and 2014) back to the top level. We bagged some time with their Dublin-born, Bailieborough-raised new number nine in the summer and since then she has been bagging goals and Player of the Month accolades for both herself and her new club.
Here’s a look back at our interview which first appeared in Issue 69 of She Kicks Magazine in September.
SK: How are you settling up north so far? Does it help that there are a couple of others from that West Ham team at Everton (Kenza Dali and Courtney Brosnan), and your Irish teammates at Liverpool?
LK: Yeah, it was pretty easy settling in, with Niamh Fahey being Irish, Megan (Campbell) being Irish, and then of course, the Everton girls from West Ham right on my doorstep. So, it’s really, really nice that I know a few people.
SK: You’re playing again for Matt Beard. He’s a man who loves to drop the Cockney rhyming slang in while he’s coaching! Did he do that a lot at West Ham, and does he still do it now?
LK: Honestly, I’ll tell you a wee story. When I originally got to West Ham, I had no idea what the man was ever saying! So I went into a bookshop and found a Cockney slang book that I could translate from when I went home! He’s great. He keeps to his roots and there’s always one or two slangs thrown in there, but I kind of have the hang of it now.
SK: What about yourself, are you using any Scouse words yet?
LK: Absolutely not, I wouldn’t be allowed home! I call my parents most days and my family, and if they ever heard that I’d changed my accent, they’d lose it!
SK: Liverpool as a club overall obviously speaks for itself, but what was the manager saying to you about coming and signing for him this season? How was he selling it?
LK: I’ve obviously known Beardy the last three years now and I know what he’s about. He is a good driving force and he wants to win things, so just his mentality on what he wants for the club and where he sees the club in the near future, I like the positivity coming from him. It’s an environment that I wanted to be in, and hopefully, I can help him get promotion.
SK: Was it always the plan to stay in England after West Ham?
LK: I had a few offers from overseas, but I’m still only 22, and I didn’t think I was ready to move that far away from home yet. The language barriers as well – the Irish language alone! People find it hard to understand me here, never mind a country that doesn’t speak English! You have to keep your options open, of course, just to see what the best for you is, but an offer came in from Liverpool and I spoke to Beardy with my family on a Zoom call before actually deciding on anything. I came off the Zoom call and my dad goes ‘I feel like this is the place you need to go, Leanne’, and I respect his opinion a lot and I have in the past. I went on his good feeling as well as my own. I knew myself, but he was another factor in me signing the contract.
SK: As mentioned, you knew some of them already, but which players in that Liverpool team are the liveliest characters, from what you’ve seen?
LK: With COVID, we’re split into two changing rooms, but I have a pretty good changing room! You have Niamh Fahey with the old Irish banter, which I can’t complain about, it gets me every time. You have the likes of Missy-Bo (Kearns); she needs subtitles on her, I never understand what she’s saying! She’s pretty funny. You just have all different characters; the Geordie girls, they’re pretty funny in their own way, how they speak to each other. The likes of Mel Lawley and Ash (Hodson) who are characters; they’re just a different breed!
SK: When you look back on moving to England at 19, to yourself now at 22, just as a person, are those two very different versions of you?
LK: I suppose I was very naïve leaving home at that age, just turned 19. Of course, I was excited, but it was a nervous move, because I was moving out of my shell and my comfort zone, being there with my parents and everything. I’m definitely a totally different person; I developed for the better in the last three years, got to know myself a bit more. I learned a lot, even in the house, with washing and just the basic things of life. It turns out it’s actually quite hard being an adult sometimes! I think I became a better person all round, learning about people in general, meeting new teammates.
SK: There seemed a strong bond between plenty of players at West Ham, which surely would have helped you a lot, but how tough was it at times being so young and away from home?
LK: Of course, it’s tough when you get things like injuries. I was told at Christmas one year that I probably wouldn’t play until the following season, and it’s quite mentally challenging. You’re going into a gym every day, and people from the outside looking in are probably saying ‘oh, they have the best life’, but when you can’t actually play, which is your job, it’s quite tough. That’s where I had good people around me, I made good friends there. The S&C (strength and conditioning coach, Colm Smith) I was very close with; he’s actually a friend of mine from home. Obviously, my family couldn’t fly over, so it was quite hard when you can’t see the people you love the most, but they’re always only a call away and they were very helpful, too.
SK: Did your family watch the documentary (on the team)? Did they have anything to say about it?!
LK: Yeah, they watched it, they’re all big West Ham fans now; we need to get them in a Liverpool shirt! That’s going to be a bit difficult, but they were very proud to see their daughter on a BBC documentary. They all watched it, and all my friends, and they all thought it was very exciting. It’s just good insight to see what I do every day, because sometimes it’s quite hard to explain exactly what you do on the phone.
SK: Playing for Shelbourne and doing as well as you did, everyone says it’s faster and more physical in the WSL to most other leagues, but was there any specific situation where that difference hits you?
LK: I learned all my football through the years in Ireland, and in that league, and if it wasn’t for that league, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. I really appreciate it and the coaches I had. When you move across the water, the amount of international players now is a joke; there’s so many brilliant players in the league. Maybe I could run past two or three players in the Irish league, or I could get the ball and then decide what to do in some parts of the game, but you need to know where the ball’s going before you get it over here. The speed of thought, the speed of play, it’s just much quicker than what I imagined originally, but when you’re in that environment and playing and training with those players, you just get the hang of it; if you don’t, you fall through the cracks.
“FOOTBALL, LIKE MOST THINGS IN LIFE, IT’S WHO’S THE STRONGEST MENTALLY. THAT’S DEFINITELY A TRAIT I NEED TO KEEP BRINGING INTO MY FOOTBALL, AND HOPEFULLY THEN I’LL BE UNSTOPPABLE.”
SK: From a manager, what kind of approach have you found gets the best from you personally?
LK: I suppose as human beings, we kind of want to be wanted, don’t we? We want to be told that we’re good enough, that we can do this. Some people blossom from maybe being thrown in the dumpster and being like ‘I’m gonna prove them wrong’, but for me, it’s definitely someone getting behind me and believing me, and giving me that chance. I’m best when someone believes in me and says ‘Leanne, you can do that’. I suppose my mentality’s quite good, I read a few books about it, and as I say, my dad’s a great motivation for me. I’d call him if I was ever struggling a bit with that and he’d tell me to just go back to basics, that I am good enough and I just need to believe in myself. Football, like most things in life, it’s who’s the strongest mentally, isn’t it? I’ve come together with that in the last few years, so that’s definitely a trait I need to keep bringing into my football, and hopefully then I’ll be unstoppable.
SK: You have your farming background, but is there any other side to your family, in terms of musicians or any different line of work or interest?
LK: Do you know what? We’re not a very artsy family! My mam, she played Camogie, the Irish sport
with a stick, and she was actually very good at it. My dad played a bit of Gaelic football, and my brother’s actually a rally driver; he’s pretty good at that. We’re a very sports-driven family, and obviously you have the farming on the side. Probably a different type of family to a lot of people in London etc. because we have a lot of space; very easy-going, laid-back family. I suppose family’s a massive thing, and if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am.
SK: As a forward player, have there been any one-on-one battles you’ve had so far in your career that particularly stand out for how they tested you in a different way?
LK: I think Millie Bright at Chelsea, she’s a very good player; strong, physical, good on the ball. You’re not getting past her easily. We’ve played Chelsea a few times and she’s one of my toughest opponents. With Ireland, we played Germany in the last few months, and I wouldn’t really boost up a lot of teams, but I came off the pitch and I was just like ‘they were brilliant’. They were great on the ball; I love the way they play. Players like this make you think ‘wow, women’s football is very good!’
SK: I know you said you’re split into two changing rooms at the moment, but are there any team DJs at Liverpool? Any chance of you stepping up?
LK: Missy-Bo has been on it and she’s been putting on dance music from the noughties, and I’m sure she wasn’t born when they came out! I’m all about it, though, they’re great songs, and it has the 30-year-olds to the 18-year-olds dancing, so I’ll leave it to her. She has the vibe going well.
SK: Finally, what else do you enjoy when you’re away from home and not playing or training?
LK: A lot of people ask me this and I have to think to myself! I’m doing a course online about animals, so I like studying that type of thing so that when I go back home, I have a bit of knowledge behind it all. I’m quite a sociable character, you’ll never see me in my room; if you do, there’s something wrong! I’ll be catching up for coffee with the girls. We moved into this apartment recently and I’ve been enjoying being the interior designer! I’ve also started watching this new show Baptiste on BBC, and I’d highly recommend it, it’s quite good actually!