Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ kicker Tadhg Leader calls game-winning kick ‘pretty surreal’

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

Hamilton Tiger-Cat’s rookie Global kicker Tadhg Leader had a CFL debut to remember after the former rugby player nailed a walk-off, 35-yard field goal to give Hamilton a 25-23 preseason win over the Montreal Alouettes on Saturday night.

“I’ve never been in that situation before,” said the native of Galway, Ireland on his first career game-winning kick. “That was only my tenth game of football ever. It was pretty surreal when I looked up and saw the ball was flying straight and then within a few seconds all the lads were engulfing me. Nice welcoming to the team.”

Leader’s Saturday night wasn’t all smiles and mobbing teammates, however. His Canadian football career got off to an inauspicious start when his first punt attempt went just 33 yards before rolling out of bounds. It wasn’t exactly the type of first impression he was hoping to make in Steeltown.

“I really wanted to blast that punt and then sometimes when you get a little over-eager that happens. It was a good learning moment for me.”

Leader knew he wanted redemption but didn’t know if it would come. The Ticats have two other kickers on the roster — returning Canadian Michael Domagala and American newcomer Seth Small — so the six-foot-two, 205-pounder knew there was a chance he might not get to make good on his earlier mistake.

“At that point, I was just thinking, ‘I hope I get another opportunity to influence the game in some way’ and you can’t ask for a better way than a game winner.”

Leader being the player to kick with the game on the line wasn’t preordained, he just got lucky that it was his turn in the rotation.

“After Seth nailed his field goal I knew I was up next if there was a next. With a few seconds left on the clock was the next opportunity.”

Leader became a fan favourite in Hamilton immediately after signing with the team in February due almost entirely to the pronunciation of his first name.

The name Tadhg is pronounced like the first three letters of “tiger.” A player with that name playing for the Tiger-Cats is almost too good to be true.

Whether Leader stays a Ticats or not after the roster gets trimmed down after Friday’s preseason finale against the Toronto Argonauts is up in the air but he will always have that one tiny moment where he was every Ticats fan’s favourite player for a reason other than how you say his name.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.