Almost two years on from the Under-17 Women's World Cup in Uruguay, where her heroics captivated the nation, Michael Burgess catches up with Anna Leat, a teenager tipped to develop into the greatest female goalkeeper this country has ever produced.
Over the last week Football Ferns goalkeeper Anna Leat has been sleeping in her parent's garage.
There hasn't been an argument or a bust-up, and the situation isn't something that was planned for the prodigy, who became a household name in this country during the FIFA under-17 Women's World Cup in 2018.
But it's the product of a difficult – but pragmatic – decision for Leat, as she has put her United States collegiate career on hold.
With the chaos and uncertainty created by Covid-19 in North America, Leat is unlikely to return to her Washington DC base this year, and doesn't have a confirmed 2021 date either.
"With everything going on in the world it has thrown a lot of things up in the air," Leat tells the Herald.
"I decided it was best to stay here, and train with the FFDP (Football Ferns development programme). I'll be able to study online, though I'll miss the girls over there. I've just made up my mind that I will be staying put for a while."
It's meant that Leat and her father Steven have been busy converting the garage in their Brown Bay's home, to accommodate the 19-year-old.
"At the moment we are doing it up – it has been a storage unit for the last seven years," laughs Leat. She wanted a "bit of a change-up", rather than moving back into her old bedroom, but Auckland's winter temperatures have provided a challenge.
"There's no insulation in there at the moment," says Leat. "I woke up the other day and the top blanket was soaking. But it will be fine."
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The unexpected hiatus is unfortunate for Leat, who has loved playing for the Georgetown Hoyas and soaking up campus life over the last year.
"It's such a huge thing over there, women's football," says Leat. "The collegiate system is almost like a professional league and the standards are through the roof."
Leat has been accepted into the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, planning to major in global business.
"I've grown so much as a person," says Leat. "If I look back, growing up in little old Arrowtown, it's long way to be landing in DC, studying international politics."
Leat has always been a unique talent. She was sporty kid, an all-rounder, and got into football because brother Michael played, and her dad was the coach.
She played a variety of positions but being between the sticks seemed like fate. "I ended up in goal for a penalty shootout and saved the day," says Leat.
"I got hooked after that." She was in the boys league in Queenstown – "that was the only league there was" – which helped her build confidence and mental strength.
The family moved to Auckland when Leat was 12, and she began to specialise in football.
At 13 she was selected for the New Zealand Secondary Schools Under-18 team, and by 15 she was training with the Ferns.
"I was always training at a level that was pushing me beyond my age group," says Leat.
"And I guess with goalkeeper, as a specialised area, that might have caught a few people's eyes. Opportunities were opening up for me and it kept on going and I am still on the journey."
For someone so young Leat was also unafraid of the spotlight, and became just the second female – after 77-cap Fern Jenny Bindon – to turn out for a men's Northern Premier League reserves team, playing for East Coast Bays.
"It was a bit of an adjustment, not for me but parents and some of the players, recalls Leat.
"You would get comments now and then and a couple of incidents. But I never really gave it much thought. You get some funny looks then you go and keep a clean sheet [so] automatically earn their respect. It's an issue of proving it and backing it up."
That's something that Leat has never struggled with, with a level of natural confidence and inner belief not always apparent in young Kiwis, especially compared to their Australian or American counterparts.
Challenges are there to be taken on, which is how Leat started busking as a youngster in Arrowtown to raise extra money for sports trips.
Even in the last few years she could be spotted playing a few chords on Queen Street or at the Takapuna markets.
"I can't really sing in front of people normally, but for some reason when I sing in front of random strangers I can do it," laughs Leat.
"[I've] always not really minded standing out and doing my thing. Having insecurities is something we are taught to have, and I have never really bought into it. I'm not saying I don't have insecurities, but it doesn't really cross my mind."
That attitude, nurtured by "very encouraging parents", served her well in Uruguay two years ago, when she was a key figure in Leon Birnie's squad that took an historic third place at the Fifa Under-17 Women's World Cup. The flashpoint was the penalty shootout in the quarter-final against Japan, where Leat saved two spot kicks, then stepped up to bury the decisive penalty.
"At the time I was in the zone, but I get nervous when I watch it again," says Leat.
"I know now what a big deal it was, how pivotal that penalty kick was, with everything that happened as a result. But it's awesome, I get butterflies every time, watching it back."
"Now and then we will be in the lounge and not sure what to watch on TV and dad always pulls out the highlights straight away. It's cool to reflect on and also be really motivated to try and achieve something like that again."
Added motivation was provided by the momentous Women's World Cup announcement last month, that Australia and New Zealand won the hosting rights for the 2023 edition.
"That day there was a party at [New Zealand Football headquarters]," recalls Leat. "I was with some of the girls from the 17s and we were just so inspired. There was a video that played, showing all the effort that went into it. We were so hyped."
Leat will be 22 when that event rolls around. Erin Nayler, recently signed with top English club Reading FC, has been the undisputed Ferns No 1 for almost eight years, but Leat could reshape the equation.
"Erin's an awesome role model," says Leat. "It's great training with her, being exposed to that kind of level and pushing her while also being a backup. Obviously, I have got to say I want to be starting [in 2023] but we are both there for the betterment of the team, however it ends up."
Ferns coach Tom Sermanni is an Leat admirer, listing four vital attributes. "Firstly, her presence," explains Sermanni. "She has a presence in goal that fills a goal up. The second is her power; her ability to make saves that other female goalkeepers can't make. She's also terrific with her feet and has the right temperament.
"Anna has huge potential," he adds. "I genuinely say this, and I hope I don't say it too early. She has all the qualities to be a world class international goalkeeper, up in the top echelon. I would put myself out there and say that."
Sermanni, who is contracted until the end of Olympics campaign, says Leat will provide "real competition" for Naylor and become a "genuine contender" for her spot.
But that is the future. For now Leat is focused on her FFDP commitments – they train three to four times a week and play in a local boys league – and the process of continuous improvement, identifying her ability to deal with crosses as an ongoing work on.
Then, hopefully, there is a return to the United States, and one day, the chance of a professional career. "It's a door I want to keep open," says Leat. "It's definitely a goal of mine, to play in one of the top leagues, once I get my degree under my belt hopefully.
"Football has enabled me to take this road and go places I wouldn't have dreamed back in Arrowtown and I am really looking forward to the rest of it."