Thursday 21 September 2017

Decision time for out-half as he finds top form again

Kicker enjoying resurgence after 'tough' season as he ponders future with contract up in summer

Ian Keatley credits his conditioning at schoolboy level for his remarkable fitness record
Ian Keatley credits his conditioning at schoolboy level for his remarkable fitness record

The Big Interview by Daragh Small

Even though his Munster future is to be confirmed, Ian Keatley continues to thrive on the field, and his recent Ireland call-up is testament to his recent good form.

The 29-year-old Dubliner has rarely been thwarted by injury, a rarity in the modern professional game, and he puts that down to the magnitude of intensive conditioning he put his body through in his days at Belvedere College.

But that's just one part of it, Keatley has become better at seizing the moment, as we saw against Connacht recently, while he surpassed 1,000 points for Munster in the victory over Zebre in Thomond Park last October.

It has been a time of extreme highs and lows at Munster of late following the shock death of Anthony Foley and the positive on-field action since then.

As well as that, a few new signings were sealed last week, and most notable for Keatley is the return of JJ Hanrahan from Northampton Saints.

The Kerry native returns to his home province, and it will leave Keatley fighting for his place in the match-day squad.

Nevertheless, Keatley remains unfazed and the former Connacht No 10 is assessing his options ahead of Hanrahan's imminent arrival.

"Rassie gave me a heads-up that JJ is coming in. He has explained to me that he wants three out-halves in Munster. It is good for Munster, we want strength in depth," says Keatley.

"I have got a decision to make this year, my contract is up so I have to make a decision now in a couple of weeks, whether I am moving on or staying.

"I said it to Rassie loads of times, he knows how I feel about Munster and I have had six great years here. Maybe last year I went through a tough time but I came out the back of that. This year I am just enjoying my rugby and I'm loving getting out there and playing.

"I am glad in a way that I went through what happened last year. It has made me a better person, a better player.

"With Rassie, Jacques (Nienaber) and even Felix (Jones) and Fla (Jerry Flannery), what they have brought to the party this year it's a breath of fresh air and it's really exciting to work under them.

"I am just looking to keep putting up my hand when I get chances. It's exciting times after what happened earlier on in the year which is crazy, it has been surreal.

"Even though this season has been great, Axel put a lot of the ground work in the last few years. Rassie and Jacques have now taken it to a new level which Axel has put down the foundations."

Munster have been awesome since the club was plunged into sadness late October. They qualified for their first Champions Cup quarter-final since 2014 and victory over Edinburgh at Myreside tonight can put them back top of the Pro12.

Crop

It has been a long time since Munster have known this success, and the latest crop want to become the new golden generation.

Keatley has played a massive role this season, and his supreme fitness levels means the four-time capped Ireland international has made 16 appearances in red this season.

"I am rarely injured thank God," he says. "When I was with Connacht I never missed a game with injury. I have never missed a game with Munster through injury, only precautionary maybe, carrying niggles or rest weeks. I have only missed two or three games with Munster.

"You can see that through the amount of caps I have got with Connacht and Munster - I have played a lot of rugby in my career. My mom says it's through very good genes from my mom and dad, and they are taking credit for that.

"I did a lot of good work in conditioning my body when I was growing up. In Belvedere I did a lot of work with Phil Conway and he built that core strength up. It all comes from a very good background at underage."

Despite their brilliant highly-charged victories along the way in 2016-17, Munster still have no silverware to show for it. Europe looks a very real route back to glory. The two-time winners haven't won a European Cup since 2008, but they are down to the final eight.

"The last time we got to a quarter-final was against Toulouse three years ago," adds Keatley. "We didn't have good results in the last two years in the Champions Cup. It all came together this year. We got a pretty good win against Toulouse last time but they will be ready for us and it will be a tough game."

Keatley has been capped at U-18, U-19 and U-20 level for Ireland. He has also worn the green jersey for the Irish Sevens, Wolfhounds, Emerging Ireland and seniors. It was a brilliant achievement to get back up to Ireland camp this week.

Thirteen Munster players were named in Joe Schmidt's original Irish selection for the first two Six Nations matches, and it's just another indication of all that's right with the club.

"The confidence is there, the game-plan is there and everyone knows what we are doing," says Keatley. "Defensively Jacques has us well drilled, Felix has us well drilled in attack and everyone is enjoying it and feeding off each other.

"That is coming from everyone knowing what we are doing this year. We know the game plan, when to kick, how to kick, why we are kicking. We are enjoying our rugby.

"There is a bit of a belief there. Obviously we can go all the way, we need a bit of luck but we have the structures in place to do it. It is not beyond our means, we have to take it one game at a time but there is that belief there."

Irish Independent

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