Sunday 25 June 2017

Kearney gears up for tough away test in final rematch

Dave Kearney gears up for a tough test against Connacht. SPORTSFILE
Dave Kearney gears up for a tough test against Connacht. SPORTSFILE

Barry Lennon

Leo Cullen's men aim to crack how the west is won against Connacht tomorrow night following much misery at the Sportsground in recent years.

The side have suffered two agonising single-point defeats in their last two Galway outings in the Guinness PRO12.

Dave Kearney was part of the team that last tasted league victory on the Westerners' home turf in January 2014, and knows full well the challenge they will face come kick-off at 7.35.

"It is just a tough place to go. Connacht and the supporters, in particular, whenever we come, they love it. It is always one of the toughest spots away in the PRO12," Kearney said.

"We know how tough it's going to be. Like I said, it is 2014 since we won there. Hopefully, we can change that."

The Ireland winger warns that a Connacht team "scrapping" in the hunt for Champions Cup rugby next year will be dangerous.

The 27-year-old knows too well about getting a campaign back up and running, having overcome a frustrating season in which he made just seven appearances owing to injury.

He came into this year's PRO12 campaign struggling with a shoulder injury he suffered against Pat Lam's charges in last year's final.

His season was further hampered by an ankle injury, then concussion before a troublesome toe kicked in.

Kearney returned having got 20 minutes against Ospreys from the bench and a good performance in Galway could help his cause to make a first Champions Cup appearance in the semi-final against Clermont.

"For me it is just getting back out on the pitch, getting as much game-time and opportunities as I can and put my hand up for selection because we have a very tough run-in," he said.

Kearney is wary of the threat posed by the champions' back three from his own experience - one of those worries is Tiernan O'Halloran.

"I played with Tiernan a couple of times with Emerging (Ireland)," he adds.

"We all know how good a player he is, how skilful he is, how much of an attacking threat he is for Connacht.

"He cuts good lines, great lines. He is naturally a very good athlete, good footballer. You can tell he's got good skill. He reacts to the game. He makes good decisions and he reads the game really well."

Connacht will be bolstered by Niyi Adeolokun's contribution, Kearney warns.

Wriggle

"It is pretty important when you hit him you need to grab him and hold onto him because he somehow manages to wriggle out of a lot of tackles," he observed.

Kearney also played with Matt Healy in Ireland's U-20s. Healy, like the Louth man, faces an end-of-season battle to get back on the team sheet. Healy aims to return to action soon after he was ruled out by a hand injury picked up in training last month.

"I played Leinster and Ireland 20s with Matt. He was a scrum-half at the time," Kearney recalled.

"He was tearing up the AIL with Lansdowne. If you looked at him as a player, you could always see how much potential he had.

"It probably didn't work out for him as well here. But, he stuck at it, kept working hard, went down to Connacht. He has been one of their best players over the last couple of years."

Like Healy, Kearney and Leinster will be hoping for a change of fortune.

Irish Independent

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