Thursday 8 December 2016

Kearney aiming to make up for lost time

Marcus Ó Buachalla

Published 19/02/2016 | 02:30

Mick Kearney is all smiles after Leinster training Photo: Sportsfile
Mick Kearney is all smiles after Leinster training Photo: Sportsfile
Mick Kearney signs a jersey for a youngster during a Leinster summer camp last year Photo: Sportsfile

Have you heard there's a new Kearney in town? No. Well he's no relation to Messrs Rob and Dave. And come to think of it, he's not that new either but on Saturday he'll become the latest Kearney to pull on a Leinster senior jersey.

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Mick of the Clontarf, not Cooley, Kearneys will finally pull on a blue jersey - or a white one to be exact - in the Cardiff Arms Park tomorrow over ten months since it was announced that he'd be joining Leinster.

An injury and a relapse of the same injury have seen to it that the most action he has seen since was three minutes in an AIL game for Clontarf.

"It's been hugely frustrating. I think any player will tell you that though about any injury regardless of how major or minor. But I suppose when you sign for a new club you just want to get going and I couldn't."

That wasn't the plan of course. To take a step back it was March 28, 2015. Thomond Park, Connacht against Munster in the Guinness Pro12. He felt something in the first ten minutes but a raucous Limerick crowd and electric atmosphere ensured that he got 'through it' but early in the second half no amount of adrenaline could keep him going. Off he came.

Togging

Three weeks later, with his move to Leinster now public knowledge, he went under the knife.

Back by August. Flying for Leinster by September. That was the plan.

"I just remember togging out for Clontarf. Five months of rehab done, everything was on track and I tried to push off the foot and I could feel the crack again and I knew. Same injury. Same toe. I just felt it and there was no question but I had to come off. Absolutely crushing."

You get a sense from talking to the affable Kearney that while it's a team game, when it comes to an injury, it becomes very singular and you have to have the right team around you and knowing what buttons to push.

"I have to give huge credit to the medical team at Leinster and the S&C team. Dan Tobin, Garreth Farrell, Karl Denvir, Tom Turner, Diarmuid Brennan. The whole team.

"There were times early on and I'd feel a pain in the middle of the night and you panic. Straight onto the phone, but they'd answer and they'd talk you through it.

"Then on a daily or weekly basis they'd set you targets. Because you're not on the pitch, you can't hit rugby targets if you want to call it that so the lads made sure that I had plenty of other targets to keep me driven. I would come in on a Monday morning and I'd have goals and that kept me motivated. Then lads like Ed Byrne and Jack Conan who also had injuries, we'd drive each other. You need that. That competition.

"But nothing beats getting back out onto the grass, pulling on the boots and getting your teeth into it. But you take encouragement from wherever you can get it to keep you driving towards that return."

He also took encouragement from his brother Niall. A professional golfer by trade, he was a member of the 2009 Walker Cup team and has won the Irish PGA Championship, the PGA Playoffs at Sultan GC Turkey and captured the PGA Tour order of merit in 2014.

But it hasn't been all plain sailing and he also had to deal with a significant shoulder injury.

"I saw how Niall approached his injury and how he went about it. For me it was inspiring to see that. He is playing in a hugely competitive environment where everyone that tees off expects to win but it's all on him.

"So his dedication to his recovery and rehab was an eye-opener for me. A lot of the practices that he applied in his rehab I took inspiration from. And, fingers crossed, here I am and good to go."

He has waited to say that for quite some time.

Not just since his signature was announced last April but well before then. A proud son of Clontarf and of Mount Temple, he was a graduate of the Leinster underage schools set-up and also played with the Irish U-20s. But the call from the Leinster Academy never came.

In April 2011, the call from out west did.

"I loved my time with Connacht and I would recommend it hugely to anyone who might be at a crossroads. There is no point sitting around and not getting rugby or even worse letting it all go and walking away if you don't get snapped up by your home provincial Academy or whatever. Look at your options with all the provinces and see what's out there. You learn so much more from being in a rugby environment and I loved every minute of my time here."

Sixty-eight caps for Connacht later and with appearances for the Emerging Ireland team also to his name the lure of his home province proved too much to turn down.

"Yeah, it's surreal to be where I am now in some ways. It's the long way around but now that my debut is upon me I just can't wait to get stuck in and get going. It's been too long a road to this point but in many ways it makes it all the sweeter."

It could get even sweeter. He comes back into full fitness as the Guinness Pro12 play-offs loom large on the horizon. But there is the small matter of other lads in front of him too.

Illusions

"You look at how well the lads have gone - Ross Molony, Gav Thornbury, Tom Denton, Hayden Triggs - and that's without even mentioning Devin and Mike so I am under no illusions.

"You are looking on and you'd love to be out there but we are all in this for the same reason. For a Leinster win so I'm delighted for the lads and how well they have gone.

"I suppose for me I just have to do my best against Cardiff and over the next few weeks and see where that gets us but we have a sole focus as a squad now which is no bad thing.

"The Pro12 is all we can work towards and put our energy towards."

Good to have rugby targets finally.

"Most definitely!" he smiles but he does admit that there have been upsides too.

"My sister Jenny had a beautiful baby girl Emily about nine months ago so I've seen plenty of them and that's been great."

But this weekend there will be no babysitting for Uncle Mick as he finally runs out for Leinster Rugby.

Irish Independent

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