Tadgh Leader is seen kicking a football in an undated handout photo. He has yet to suit up for a CFL regular-season game but new Hamilton Tiger-Cats punter Tadgh Leader does have prior experience with Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Hamilton Tiger-Cats, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Ticats kicker Leader was part of U.S. rugby win over Canada in 2019

Ticats kicker Leader was part of U.S. rugby win over Canada in 2019

He’s yet to play in the CFL, but Hamilton Tiger-Cats kicker Tadhg Leader does have a history with Canada.

In March 2019, Leader played for the U.S. national men’s rugby team that rallied to beat Canada 30-25 in Seattle. The Galway, Ireland, native added the conversion on the Americans’ game-winning try.

“I remember we were in Seattle and it was freezing,” Leader said via telephone from Marbella, Spain, where he’s training. “Canada was winning with a minute remaining and thankfully we scored a try that put us ahead.

“I got to kick the conversion to put the cherry on top, which was a cool moment with fans chanting and everyone being excited because we’d scored. The Canadian guys less so, but it was a nice memory for me at least.”

Leader — whose first name is pronounced like Tiger without the ‘r’ — qualified for the U.S. team because he’d lived there for at least three years. Leader said the rule has since been changed to five years.

Leader signed with Hamilton after making four-of-six field goals, six-of-seven converts and sporting a 42.1-yard punting average last year with the Aviators of The Spring League. He also played for Poland’s Wroclaw Panthers of the European League of Football.

But rugby was originally the six-foot-two, 205-pound Leader’s sport of choice. He was in Major League Rugby with the San Diego Legion (2018) and New England Free Jacks (2018-2021) while also having a loan spell with the New Orleans Gold (2019).

He also spent three years with Ireland’s Connacht Rugby program and played with Italy’s Rugby Badia ASD. Leader suited up for Ireland’s under-19 national team before representing the U.S.

In 2015, while recovering from shoulder surgery, Leader received a rugby scholarship to Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., where he obtained a sports management degree. While there, he also played for the St. Louis Royals, a local side.

Leader’s primary rugby position was fly half, although he also played inside centre. But learning the on-field nuances of a different game hasn’t been Leader’s only challenge.

“The fly half in rugby is your quarterback,” he said. “I was the fly half and captain with teams I played for so I was highly, highly, highly involved in everything and got used to that world.

“Then I come to football, I sit on the sidelines, drink water and wait for people to call me. That hasn’t been easy, to be honest. I was used to having over 100 involvements and now I have maybe five or six. It’s recognizing that and being able to flip the switch when it’s go-time. It’s something I’m learning but I have much more to do.”

Leader, who acts as his own agent, never imagined switching sports in August 2020 when he first kicked a football.

“I love kicking, genuinely there were no other ideas in my head,” he said. “I ended up doing more because I enjoyed it.

“I thought I was just OK but people who kind of knew the sport saw me and said, ‘Hey, you’re actually doing very good.’”

So Leader hooked up with former NFL kicker John Carney, who runs a kicking camp in San Diego.

“John’s a good Irishman, he kind of took me under his wing and mentored me like he has so many NFL and CFL kickers,” Leader said. “At this stage I retired from rugby, which was a big step because that had been my job and I was making myself unemployed to chase a sport I’d never actually played.”

Before the ‘21 CFL season, Leader rubbed shoulders with then Saskatchewan Roughriders punter Jon Ryan in San Diego. Leader said Ryan, a Regina native who won a Super Bowl with Seattle in 2014, offered encouragement.