Keatley sets sights on usurping O'Gara
HE'S watched the master at work throughout the Six Nations and now Ian Keatley can't wait to start learning from the feet and hands of Ronan O'Gara.
But the Connacht fly-half, who will join Munster at the end of this season, won't be content to sit and watch the more experienced man when he dons the red jersey at the start of his two-year deal -- he is intent on challenging for a starting place.
The Clontarf native, who won two Ireland caps on the 2009 tour of North America, has some regrets about leaving Connacht after a successful spell, but he wants to improve his game and believes he can do that under the tutelage of Tony McGahan.
"While I'm happy enough with my form this year, I still believe I can improve a lot and one of the main reasons the move to Munster is so attractive is because I'll be surrounded by the likes of Ronan O'Gara every day," he said.
"There's just so much I can learn from him. He's been Ireland's best out-half for 10 years, so I'm really looking forward to that. You can only improve when you're in that environment on a regular basis. Munster is a huge club, so I'm really excited. The squad is full of top-quality players and the same can be said of the coaching staff."
Connacht's departure lounge will be busy at the end of this season. On top of Keatley's move to Munster, Sean Cronin and Jamie Hagan are bound for Leinster, where they may yet be joined by Fionn Carr.
But where does that leave Eric Elwood's side? How can the poor relation of Irish rugby blossom when their top players are cherry-picked on a regular basis?
"I'm going to be sad leaving Connacht because this is where I got the chance to break on to the scene, so I'll always be really grateful for that," Keatley explained. "But I'm pretty confident Connacht can keep progressing anyway.
"I've no doubt they can do that with the coaching staff and the players that are already here. Even training now has picked up a lot and players are starting to perform to their potential more often.
"I know it's often said that if Connacht had equal funding, they'd have a much better chance of being competitive, but Munster and Leinster generate a lot of their own money through ticket sales and that side of things.
"Connacht are definitely a bit on the back foot that way, so, hopefully, things can change on that front. But it's difficult to know how to solve it."
While 23-year-old Keatley is primarily an out-half, he is also comfortable at either full-back or centre and while he wants O'Gara's jersey, he is happy to show his versatility in the same manner as the departing Paul Warwick has done.
"Your priority is always (to be in) the team, so if I have to play at centre or full-back, I don't mind doing that at all. But I would see myself as an out-half because I've played there since God knows what age.
"I'm going to Munster as a No 10, so I'll be working as hard as I can to get as many games there as possible. That's easier said than done when you've got someone like Ronan doing the same, but I'll give it my all."
"You have to put a bit of pressure on yourself because otherwise you'll just settle into a comfort zone. Paul Warwick has been a fantastic player for Munster and if I can perform as well as he's done, I'll be very happy."