Brianne Leahy - The Canavan of Kildare

Kildare Nationalist Edward Street
Newbridge Co. Kildare 

045 432 147

The Canavan of Kildare By Daragh î Conchuir (Sports Editor
Kildare Nationalist)

When you’re young, birthdays are occasions to be savoured.
Family and friends surround you, wishing you well, and generally
there’s a good shindig to go along with that. On Sunday, Brianne
Leahy turns 22. It will be a birthday with a difference, however.
Hopefully there will be a party, but first, the Grange prodigy
must lead Kildare out onto the historic sward of Croke Park,
as the Lilywhites aim to win a first ever All-Ireland junior
title. “I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing”,
she giggles, “but it’d be a nice birthday present if we could
win it.” No kidding.

The tension has been building up ever since Tipperary were
mauled in the semi-final and one gets the impression that
Leahy just can’t wait to get out on the field and unleash
the full extent of her footballing talents. “Everyone is getting
focussed now. We’re really nervous but you need to be before
a game. It helps. “I was watching the men’s All-Ireland on
Sunday and to see Tyrone winning it for the first time was
great. I was looking at it and thinking that in seven days
time, it could be us winning an All-Ireland for the first

If so, it would be appropriate that Leahy is the leader, for
like Peter Canavan with Tyrone, she is Kildare’s talisman.
It has been a long journey to get this far and despite her
youth, Brianne has been there for much of it. She made her
debut five years ago, when the aim was just to win a championship
game. That came in 1999 and since then bar has continued to
be raised. “We hadn’t half as good a team as we do now and
we didn’t take it as seriously. At the start we wanted to
win our first championship game and then, to win a Leinster
final. “For the last three years it has been all about winning
an All-Ireland and we’re just one step away from winning that
now. “A lot of work has been done at club level to bring about
such an improvement in ladies football in Kildare. Sarsfields
won their first junior title this year, and Grange and Confey
are gone senior. There are clubs all over the county now,
producing excellent players.”

All of which has made team selection a headache for Frank
Delaney and his selectors (which include Brianne’s father,
Johnny). The midfielder sympathises with the management, and
with the players who failed to make the starting 15. “It’s
such a tough thing to do and it was a toss of a coin for some
positions. But as Frank constantly says, it’s not just about
the 15 players that go out to start a game. It’s about the
squad that has trained from the start of the year. We will
need subs to be ready to come on and maybe win the game for
us. So everyone will have to be focussed.”

Leahy admits that the presence in the opposite corner of Donegal,
who defeated them in controversial circumstances in last year’s
semi-final, adds a bit of spice to proceedings, but emphasises
that it won’t be to the forefront of the players’ minds. “I
think everyone might be even more psyched because it’s Donegal
but to be honest with you, we don’t care who we beat or where
we beat them. We don’t care if the game is in Croke Park,
or wherever. We just want to win the All-Ireland.”

She was named as captain in 2000 and lifted the Leinster Cup
for the fourth time this year. “At the start I felt under
a lot of pressure because of being captain, but I don’t now.
I just go out and play my game.” And the presence of sister,
Kate, in the half-back line and dad, Johnny, on the sideline
helps. “It’s really good we’re all there. It’s sort of weird
too I suppose, but I like it.”

Such is her standing in the game, that Brianne was selected
as an All-Star two years ago. It remains Kildare’s only such
recognition. Even now she is astounded by the honour, but
also, judging from her spontaneous reaction at its mention,
still deliriously happy about it. “Well, you dream of winning
All-Stars and All-Irelands. I couldn’t believe it when they
called my name out. I just went ‘oh my God’. I thought I’d
never get one.”

As Sunday approaches, the Science student – on a football
scholarship in Maynooth College – says that she will be visualising
what she might need to do in midfield, running through numerous
different potential scenarios in her mind, and deciding what
she will need to do if confronted with them. She is not one
to get too far ahead of herself, but somewhere at the back
of her mind, she must also have painted a picture of herself
hoisting the West County Hotel Cup over her head, in front
of a sea of white at headquarters. She doesn’t admit as much,
but is optimistic about the possibility. “We would be fairly
confident, but we won’t take anything for granted. We will
be trying to do our best and must focus on that. “I would
hope that our best will be good enough.”

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