Robbie Brady's long-term love Kerrie Harris: 'He makes me feel very secure - he's a one woman man'
During the European championships this summer, when Kerrie Harris was lifted over the crowd to kiss her footballer-hero boyfriend Robbie Brady, it was a moment that captured the hearts of the nation.
Brady, her boyfriend and father of her two-year-old daughter, Halle, had just scored the clincher against Italy, sending Ireland into the last 16 of the Euros, and the Irish fans were euphoric.
But the footballer was only interested in one person in the crowd.
When the beautiful brunette was passed over the heads of his friends and family to the front of the crowd in Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille, what followed was one of the most natural, heart-warming displays of affection in Irish sporting history.
But who was this young woman, and what was the story behind their romance?
Dancer and choreographer Kerrie grew up in Swords, a middle child and one of three girls. She was a happy girl and a dreamer - always looking for the opportunity to entertain.
On Saturdays, her parents used to drive the family to Nanny Harris, as Kerrie affectionately calls her grandmother, where the family used to gather in the sitting room, and the kids of the extended family would perform for their aunts and uncles. Her grandmother, Kerrie recalls, "was quite a performer herself".
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The experience drove the youngster to seek out parts in local musicals, where the group's choreographer placed her in the back row. But - with the same cheerful, optimistic outlook that resonates throughout our interview - Kerrie didn't let it deter her.
"I remember my mam and dad coming to see me in a show, and I was in the very back line," Kerrie says, "but I didn't let that get me down. I was still giving it socks. I kept saying, 'I will get up there, I will get up there' and, sure enough, as time went on, I was front-and-centre in the dance line, and getting parts in leading pantomimes."
The driven youngster played all the fairy-tale roles in everything from Beauty and the Beast to Aladdin - but it wasn't until she was 15 that her own fairy tale took off.
Sitting in her home in Swords, Dublin, the shy and unassuming 24-year-old describes how she and Robbie Brady had chemistry long before he ever came to the attention of millions of football fans.
"I knew him from around the area, and I didn't know too much about him because he was away in England, starting out his career at the Manchester United Academy," she says. "I remember himself and his mate, who was a mutual friend, took a spin out to me one day. I was in my da's house, and I ran out to the car to see him to have a little chat."
But the pair still had to overcome obstacles to reach their happy-ever-after.
Living in separate countries for most of the year, romance would take a while longer to blossom. Both also had very different ambitions in life - Brady had his footballing career, which he focused on before anything else, and Kerrie had her dancing prowess, from which she intended to create a sustainable living for herself.
By the time she was 17, Kerrie was still on Robbie's mind, and he decided to ask her out for their first official date. That first date was a simple affair, and not a flashy reflection of Brady's position as a budding footballer. The pair met at The Spire on Dublin's O'Connell Street, and they took a stroll around town, holding hands.
"He was very quiet, but a gentleman," says Kerrie, looking back, explaining how she didn't let herself get swept off her feet too quickly. Unlike other teenage girls, who may have dreamt of nabbing a footballer, Kerrie took the courtship in her stride.
"As our dates went on, I kept myself busy, and I was by no means chasing him," she explains. "Some girls might go after a guy, but it wasn't like I always dreamed of being with a footballer. Things between us happened very naturally, and football just happened to be his job."
She says,"He could tell I was a genuine, down-to-earth girl, and I had my own things going on. I went on to college, where I studied advertising and marketing, but I was still focused on dance, with dreams to one day open my own stage school - a dream I eventually fulfilled. So I wasn't focusing all my energy on him."
Over the next two years, the long-distance relationship was difficult - particularly for Robbie, who missed having his family and friends around him as he followed his dreams in England.
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"It definitely wasn't easy on him over there," Kerrie says. "He was very young, and there were some Christmases when he didn't get home. He has a big, close-knit family, so it did make him quite lonely. But, at the same time, he knew what he wanted, and the sacrifices he had to make to get it, and I really respect that."
For Kerrie herself, she says, "It definitely wasn't ideal. You know when you are younger, and you just want to go and watch a DVD in the evening with the guy you are seeing . . . but we both travelled back and forth a bit, and we knew what we had was good, so we just had to hang on in there. And I am glad we did," she says, smiling.
As the couple turned 20, their relationship became serious. It was after an Ireland game at the team hotel with family and friends, during a sing-song, that Robbie leaned over and asked Kerrie in a whisper if they could get serious. She said yes, and eventually moved over to Hull to be with him - he was with Hull City at the time.
The couple grew closer and Kerrie fulfilled her dream of opening a dance school - Soul2Sole Dance Academy, in her native Swords, which Kerrie travels back and forth to look after. And then, two years later, came a big surprise.
Kerrie explains that - after a romantic holiday in Mexico with Robbie - she felt something wasn't right. "When I came home, I was feeling sick," she says. "I love peanut butter on my toast in the mornings, but this particular morning I went to put peanut butter on my toast, and I thought, 'Oh my God; I can't touch that!' - I knew something was up.
"So I rang Robbie and said, 'I think I'm pregnant', and I explained what happened, but he just laughed it off, because it was such a bizarre symptom.
"Still, I knew I wasn't 100pc myself. I did a pregnancy test the next day and discovered I was right. I waited for him to come home - after an Irish match against England - and I told him."
She laughs, "Obviously it was a bit of a shock, but his instant reaction was pure delight. He loves kids, he always has, and he has been a terrific dad ever since."
The couple had a baby girl - Halle - who Kerrie now looks after, as she continues her work as a choreographer.
The family live in Hull, following Norwich City's £7m purchase of Robbie, but rather than glitzy lifestyle changes, these days it's the little things that count for Kerrie: "Robbie could be training for hours and he'll still come in the door and make me a cup of tea, or get down on the floor and play with Halle.
"He would read her a bedtime story at night and then come downstairs. We would chat about the day and have quality time together, watching a box-set over a Barry's Tea and little bit of dark chocolate to dunk in our tea," she laughs, "That's what we love doing in the evenings."
The pair are best friends. She is his support, providing a listening ear, rather than loading him down with advice, when things get tough in the footballing world.
"When a player does something right, they are the best in the world, but then they can be hero to zero in a matter of minutes," she says. Amid these ups and downs, Kerrie is good at keeping Robbie grounded. She knows public opinion is fleeting and that her partner needs good people around him to keep the belief in himself. "I say to him to keep focused on what he is doing, and all his hard work always pays off."
For Robbie's part, he repays her understanding with reassurance. Kerrie says she never has had to worry, despite the playboy reputation associated with footballers. "He is very loyal. He makes me feel very secure, and obviously I do trust him. He's a one-woman man," she laughs, "well maybe two, now, with Halle.
"I think it helps that we surround ourselves with our friends and family when we go out. There will always be a certain type of person that will try to grab his attention, but he handles it really well.
"If girls hover around a little bit, Robbie doesn't pay much heed, so they get tired. He is a really good lad, with a massive heart, and he would do anything for myself and Halle. He is a real family man, and the three of us have our own thing going on."
The couple are already talking about expanding their brood, but first, the big question of marriage is on the cards. "I'd like to think we would do it in the next two years, but we only have a small window to do it in the summer because of the way the season schedule plays out," Kerrie explains.
"But yes, we definitely do talk about it, and we are big believers in marriage, so you'll just have to ask him that question," she laughs.
In the meantime, Robbie certainly makes Kerrie feel appreciated. "When it comes to treating me, he is very good, in fairness. He has great taste," she laughs. "I trust him when it comes to that, too. You should see the heels and handbags he picks out for me . . . and, you know, if he wants to spoil me, I'm OK with that," she laughs again.
On her 21st birthday, Robbie went the extra mile. "He gave me a beautiful pair of high heels and told me to put my hand inside them - I found a set of car keys. That was a really nice surprise.
"But it doesn't even have to be an occasion. Sometimes I might come back from Dublin and he would have gone out and bought my favourite flowers, white roses, and placed them on the table for when I walk in the door."
As well as being a doting partner and father, Kerrie also reveals how handy Robbie is in the kitchen - cooking healthy meals for the family as part of his athlete's diet.
"Obviously, Robbie naturally looks after himself for his job, and in the evenings he will make us chicken with spinach and couscous, or he might do smoked haddock and steamed vegetables, or turkey mince on a bed of cauliflower. I try to keep the balance right myself the rest of the time, having scrambled egg, spinach and a cup of tea for breakfast, and then maybe an omelette and a salad for lunch, with the gym or dance a couple of times a week," she adds.
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As for the typical Wag look, Kerrie says you are more likely to find her as her natural self. "I don't wear make-up Monday to Friday, and you'll most likely find me in my gym gear with my hair thrown up until our weekend date night. If Robbie and I are going to dinner, then that's when I would obviously dress up, but as for this traditional idea of a Wag, I definitely don't see myself as that, and I am so far away from that stereotype."
With talk of transfers surrounding Robbie's career in recent weeks, Kerrie says the two most difficult aspects about being in a relationship with a footballer are having to move where football takes them, and the time away playing matches:
"Every second weekend they are away for matches, so it's difficult", she says, "And moving around to different football clubs can be hard, too - you don't know where you might be next year. But you just have to accept that it's part of the football world, which has so many highs as well."
There's no need to remind us of that Kerrie: over a million of us saw you plucked from the crowds last summer.
Photography by Kip Carroll. Styling by Liadan Hynes
Sunday Indo Life Magazine