Kearney keen to make up for lost time after 'worst season'
Dave Kearney makes no bones about it: this has been the worst season of his career.
He came into the campaign struggling with the shoulder injury he suffered against Connacht in last year's Guinness PRO12 final and then suffered a troublesome ankle injury. On his return, he was ruled out with concussion, and then a toe injury saw him miss out for a further few weeks.
In the meantime, his team-mates were turning Leinster's fortunes around without him and Ireland were beating the All Blacks, Australia and England. The campaign was progressing in his absence as he watched on from the treatment room.
Now, finally, he is back in the mix and could be forgiven for unashamedly chasing some end-of-season glory.
Leinster are in contention on two fronts and an injury to Adam Byrne has opened the door for the returning Ireland winger at just the right time.
He got 20 minutes off the bench against the Ospreys on Saturday and is in line for a start in Galway this weekend. A strong performance will have him firmly in the frame for the Champions Cup semi-final against Clermont in Lyon on Saturday week.
"Definitely, it's the worst (season)," he said. "I have only been involved in six or seven games. I can't believe that we are in April already with not too much left to play, but there is still a lot up for grabs. It's getting into the exciting, business-end of the season.
"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.
"There are some really big games: the Ospreys last weekend, Connacht, Clermont, Glasgow and Ulster some really tough games there.
"There have been some really tough times when you question a few things. I have worked really hard over the last couple of months especially with the first (ankle) injury.
"It's really different because with other injuries you know exactly when you are going to be back. If you break an arm or a leg you know you have a window and you'll be back with these two weeks.
"With the ankle I didn't really know when I would be back. We didn't really know exactly what the problem was. That was frustrating. The motivation was there to work hard and get back.
"It was important to focus on the positives. It was tougher not being a part of training, you don't feel as much a part of the team as you do when you are playing.
"There is still a lot of time to make up for that and hopefully I can do that."
In his absence, the Stuart Lancaster revolution was underway at the RDS and Leinster have been racking up a record tally of tries and playing exciting rugby en route to the last four of Europe's top competition.
Kearney has been kept in the loop, but now he is catching up on his homework and trying to fit into the system.
"We have been playing a good brand of rugby and our wingers have been getting a load of ball," Kearney reflected wryly. "Scoring a lot of tries… it gives me motivation to work harder, to get back.
"While I haven't been playing the lads have done a really good job, especially in the back three, the lads have performed really well.
"That's been the way Leinster has been since I have come through the Academy. There has been serious competition, no matter what age you are, or where you are on the ladder, you are always competing with other players. It's no different now.
"We still go to the meetings, keep in touch with the coaches, we still know how we like to play but it's different because you are not on the pitch.
"It doesn't take long to get back into the swing of things. You need a week's training under your belt to get a feel for things again.
"Once you're back in the mix for a couple of weeks it is second nature to you at that stage.
"You're not going to be just handed the jersey, especially if lads are going well. If I was playing and someone else was given a jersey straight after coming back from injury, I obviously wouldn't be happy.
"I know that I have to fight to get a playing spot back and I know how difficult that is going to be. I know how important and scarce opportunities are coming towards the end of the season.
"I just need to be ready for them when they come."