27 January 2024
~6 minutes read
‘Time to go’ – The Big Interview with Galway’s Tracey Leonard
By DAIRE WALSH
Following 12 years of loyal service to the cause, Galway ladies football stalwart Tracey Leonard believes the time had come to bring her inter-county career to an end.
A TG4 All Star winner in 2019, Leonard made her senior debut for the Tribeswomen while still a teenager eight years earlier. She continued to feature prominently for her county up until the 2023 season and appeared as a substitute when the westerners lost to Kerry in a Lidl National Football League Division 1 final at Croke Park last April.
She was a regular starter for Galway during their subsequent campaign in the TG4 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, scoring 1-6 across three outings. However, their year finished in an agonising quarter-final defeat to provincial rivals Mayo at Pearse Stadium, Salthill on July 15, 2023 and this proved to be her final game at the inter-county grade.
“Last year I hummed and hawed about it. My gut was telling me ‘no’, but the body was telling me ‘yeah, I can go’. I did and I gave it the year. I have no regrets or what not, but for me, a lot of my friends have moved on as well,” remarked Leonard, who had confirmed her inter-county retirement earlier this month during an interview with former team-mate Edel Concannon on The Maroon & White Pod.
“Not that I’m using that to say ‘oh just because my friends aren’t there, I’m not playing either’, but when your circle of close friends move on as well, the different generations are coming through there. The decision I made, I’m at peace with.
“Again, you think you’ll never come to that decision, because it’s all you want to do when you’re a young one coming in and looking up to the senior team. All you want to do is play. Time comes for everyone and the time has come for me. I’m happy and at peace with the decision.”
In the wake of that one-point reversal to Mayo, Leonard returned to the local scene in Galway. The sister of multiple All-Ireland club winner Jason Leonard, she helped Corofin to reach the semi-final of a Galway senior ladies football championship that has been dominated by the all-conquering Kilkerrin-Clonberne in recent years.
Yet the saffron and green ultimately fell to Claregalway in the last-four and in addition to ending her journey with the county team, Leonard is also set to step away from club duty.
“I kind of always said it to myself, once I gave up county that club was going to go as well. Right now anyway, it’ll neither be club or county. I’ll be packing in the two of them.”
While it isn’t the reason she called time on her footballing career, Leonard is about to kick-start an exciting new chapter in her life. A nurse who worked on the frontline at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in Ireland, she is due to be welcoming a new baby into the world in the middle of May and is excited by the prospect of starting a young family.
“It’s a different chapter in my life and one I’m looking forward to. It’s not every day that this news comes along. The modern world we’re living in now, a lot of women experience difficulties in getting pregnant. I’m fortunate enough to be able to carry a child at this point.”
Though she admits it may become tricky in the summertime, Leonard will be throwing her full support behind the Galway footballers as they look to make headway in the league and championship under new manager Daniel Moynihan. Indeed, she still has a strong family connection to the Tribeswomen with her cousin Roisin once again part of the panel this year.
A secondary school teacher at the famed St Jarlath’s College in Tuam, the younger of the two Leonards (Tracey will have turned 32 by the end of this month) kicked two points off the bench in Galway’s defeat to Cork in the opening round of the new Lidl NFL Division 1 at Bishopstown last weekend.
“I’ll be a big supporter following them around. I know May/June might be a little bit difficult, I might be housebound a little bit! I might be watching it, hopefully, if they’re on television. I definitely will be going around, following the games and supporting the girls all the way.
“Myself and Roisin grew up together. School, primary and secondary, club, county. We’ve spent a lot of time together. It’s one aspect that I do miss, that I don’t see her as much. Because it is hard to meet up, she trains so many nights a week.
“On weekends she probably likes her downtime and that. It’s one aspect that you would miss. The contact with girls that you have been friends with in there. It’s hard to keep in contact because everyone is busy and has different bits on, on different nights of the week.”
Whereas Roisin still has a road left to travel with Galway, Tracey can look back on her time in the maroon and white with a great degree of fondness. As well as featuring in six Connacht SFC final triumphs, she got to lead out her county as captain on All-Ireland finals day in 2019.
After playing her part in four previous semi-final losses, Leonard and Galway eventually got over the line in a tense penultimate round encounter against Mayo. Their showpiece showdown with Dublin may have ended in a 2-3 to 0-4 reversal, but there are still plenty of memories for her to cherish from a day that attracted a record attendance of 56,114.
“It’s a bit surreal. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself that it actually did happen. That I led the team out and you’re going around after the band and what not,” Leonard added.
“It’s a day that I’ll never forget, it’s a great experience to get there. I know the ultimate goal is probably winning an All-Ireland, but again, you look at some girls that don’t get the opportunity to play with Galway.
“To get that opportunity to run out onto Croke Park, it’s a phenomenal experience and it’s one that I’ll never forget.”