Kearney: 'Violent' training week will have Connacht well primed
As Mick Kearney would attest, the career path of a professional rugby player doesn't always follow a straight road and after a slight diversion of his own, he has reached his preferred destination.
As a Dubliner and someone who played with Leinster at underage level, Kearney's intention was always to earn a contract with his home province but it was Connacht who gave him his chance.
The 24-year-old's return from a successful four-year stint out west has been blighted with injury but he is fully fit again and as he prepares to return to Galway tomorrow, he more than most knows exactly what will be waiting for Leinster.
In times gone by, Connacht have been the perennial spoilers of Leinster's party but this time around there is far more at stake for them than just the bragging rights.
"From my experience, for any inter-pro game when you're in Connacht, it's a fairly violent week (in training) to be honest," Kearney outlined at this week's Samsung's 'Shoot Like a Pro' launch.
"You want to be starting, you want to get your place and you want to get as many of those physical moments in during the week, you want to be ready, you want to know what's coming.
"I'll tell you now, when I was at Connacht the training we did in the week of an inter-pro was far harder than any inter-pro than we played in. It was fairly vicious stuff and it gets you ready for the game.
"There's a massive chip on the shoulder, there's a huge 'F.U.' attitude when they do come up the road. You say, 'Well, you didn't pick me initially, who are you to say that I'm not good enough to play for my home province', and then on top of that it's an inter-pro and there's a bigger picture in terms of Ireland (selection).
"If you can outplay the guy who's starting week in, week out in the Six Nations, you want to take that opportunity.
"We know what's coming, we know what we're going to bring as well and we haven't actually looked at them a huge amount this week. After a disappointing performance in Glasgow last week it's all about us and what we can bring."
During his time with Connacht, Kearney saw the crowds at the Sportsground multiply and, as he explained, the atmosphere around Galway and beyond has become much more rugby-focused.
Predictably, tomorrow evening's top-of-the-table clash is a sell out and while Kearney may be looking forward to seeing some old faces, he's prepared for the slagging that comes as part of the territory.
"From my first year you were lucky to get a man and his dog in the stand and by my last it was just huge," Kearney recalled.
"Just walking through town you know the people who are coming to the games, you know the shop owners and the restaurateurs and these guys and there's that added responsibility not to let them down either.
"They're paying hard-earned cash to go into the games and there's a massive pressure and accountability on the players to perform.
"I'd still have a lot of friends down there, I was in Galway for five years. There's been a bit of slagging back and forth during the week so I'm looking forward to getting there and hopefully getting stuck in."
When Kearney made his first start for Connacht, of course it had to be against Leinster and that afternoon, he went up against his now head coach Leo Cullen.
"I was saying to him not so long ago that my first start for Connacht was against Leinster, he was playing. I think there was a few cheap shots flying around that day from both of us! It's interesting to look back at that," Kearney smiled.
Rugby has a strange habit of coming full circle and having been in Connacht when Pat Lam arrived, Kearney has seen first hand the phenomenal work that he has done with the club.
"He's a good guy, he's just instilled a really good culture in Connacht," the second-row said.
"There's always been good people in Connacht but he's brought systems with him and the skills coaches he's got in, the likes of Dave Ellis, Andre Bell, Jimmy Duffy and these guys, they've made them good people and good players.
"He has a massive interest in all sports around Galway. I'm sure he went in to speak to the Galway footballers not so long ago and he spoke to Galway United too just about their culture and how they approach things.
"He's obviously gone down very well over there.
"He was quite into making us look into our own heritage and our own culture in the west of Ireland. That's something that we would have visited a lot when I was there, it's about tapping into Connacht's history."
Kearney may once have been a part of that rapidly growing history but he is back where he wants to be and for 80 minutes at least tomorrow, all sentiment will be firmly put to one side.