Leanne Kiernan: ‘There’s always going to be people trying to bring you down, if you let them’

The Liverpool and Republic of Ireland striker looks forward to the Euro 2025 qualifiers against Sweden ... and the birth of a baby cow

“I’ll show you a photo,” says Leanne Kiernan as she whips out her phone and clicks on her Instagram account. She holds the image up proudly, like she’s showing off her first born. Except it’s a cow called Rosie. “Aw,” her audience coos, unconvincingly. Kiernan beams. “She’s due in July,” she says. And she is so excited about this, Eileen Gleeson might fret over her availability for that month’s Euro 2025 qualifiers against England and France. It would, surely, be the first time the FAI had to state “cow in labour” as a reason for a player missing international duty.

Kiernan is in fine form, and not just because of the impending pitter patter of bovine feet. She finished up yet another injury-interrupted club season by scoring a hat-trick for Liverpool in their final WSL fixture, and she has featured in each of the Republic of Ireland’s last four games. “Eilo [Gleeson] has a lot of trust in me, which is really nice,” she says.

Few players are more deserving of a change in fortunes than the 25-year-old from Cavan. She made her senior Irish debut eight years ago, but an unrelenting string of injuries since then have limited her to 32 caps, when her talent could easily have yielded at least twice that tally.

She has “metal things and wires” in her ankle, which occasionally set off alarms in airports, after the injury that ended her 2022-23 season on its opening day. And her recovery from that blow, as well as having to overcome a hip problem and a Covid-like “bad flu”, also affected the season just ended. But now? “I’m feeling really good,” she says after joining up with the Irish squad in advance of the qualifying games against Sweden in Dublin on Friday and in Stockholm next Tuesday.


It’s been a gruelling trip, though. “Those 15 months when I was injured were the hardest I’ve ever been tested in my life, sport-wise,” says Kiernan, who, having lost her eldest brother Patrick in a car crash 11 years ago, puts the stress on “sport-wise”.

“I guess you don’t realise how grateful you are that you can wake up and go training, go play and be a part of something until it’s taken away from you. But I feel like I am a lot more grateful for everything in life now. I got to see my family more, and that was really nice. My mam came over to Liverpool for three weeks at a time and that was the longest I got with her since I was a kid. It was a blessing disguise. I was always ‘why me?’, but I really do look back now and think everything was meant to happen like this.”

She’s philosophical too about the downside of the game, like the dog’s abuse that can come your way when you make a mistake on the pitch. She was showered with it last month after that moment in Metz when she failed to pick out an unmarked Katie McCabe in the box three minutes from time in the 1-0 defeat by France, instead blazing a shot wide.

“I’m not on a lot of social media, so I didn’t see any of it. We have a lot of keyboard warriors that you just ignore. It’s football. People make mistakes. And then you have a second of glory, and it’s brilliant. We learn, we go again. There’s always going to be one or two people trying to bring you down, if you let them. I’m like, go on, say what you want, but you have no idea what we’re doing to get to this stage.”

And she adopted a similar philosophy to cope with missing out on last summer’s World Cup. “I’m very much like, what’s for me won’t pass me. I wasn’t supposed to go to that World Cup, and I’m okay with that. I had a really nice summer. Every summer I come home, I turn off my football group chats and I just reset. I live with girls from football. All we do is talk about football. You have 10 months of the year when it’s only football. I go home and I just like being out in nature with animals, just away from it all. Of course, it was great to see the girls on the big stage. I know that my time will come. I wasn’t ready for that one, but I’ll be ready for the next one for sure.”

Besides, she had plenty to keep herself occupied during the World Cup, like finding a father for Rosie’s “wee baby”. “That was my project,” she says.

The family business is pig farming, but Kiernan discovered a grá for cows in her youth. “I remember for my First Communion, I went and spent my money on cows instead of make-up or jewellery,” she says.

She now has three cows – and, all going well, four come July. She spotted Rosie two years ago while “ripping around the fields” with her brother on his quad when she was home for the summer. “I thought, this is the one that I want, I’d love a wee baby calf out of it.” It’ll be a shorthorn calf. Her audience nodded knowingly, despite an inability to tell a shorthorn calf from a pheasant. Best wishes to the mum to be.

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times