independent

Thursday 24 April 2014

Keatley committed to the Red revolution

'I didn't want to go anywhere and they wanted me to stay'

Ian Keatley in action for Munster against Racing Metro during last weekend's Heineken Cup clash

It has been some week for Ian Keatley. It started with securing qualification for the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup at a packed Thomond Park on Sunday. By Tuesday the ink was drying on a new two-year contract and tonight he will be back on familiar ground in the green of Ireland.

Then, of course, there was the near decapitation of referee Wayne Barnes during Sunday's clash with Racing Metro to provide the YouTube moment of this season's Heineken Cup campaign, when he floored the English official by smacking him in the face with a kick from the hands.

"I went in to see him afterwards and he was fine. I thanked him for blocking it because it was a rubbish kick! He was a bit groggy, but he took the full force of it and the ball ended up back near our own tryline.

"It was just one of those things, it all happened in a second, but thankfully he was fine. Although at the next scrum he awarded them a penalty, so I don't if there was a message in that!

"It's the first time something like that has happened to me. It was freakish, but we were just so focused, we just got on with it," said the 25-year-old.

He is in his second season with Munster and it is proving to be a fruitful one. He has featured in all bar one game for the province this season -- the away loss to Saracens -- and has started three of their six Heineken Cup matches.

Sunday was special, as it was his first time going out to start in one of those winner-takes-all type of games -- and Keatley enjoyed every bit of it.

"It was unbelievable. The roar of the crowd from the moment we went out was unreal. We may have questions to answer as a team, but no one can ever question their support. We just did not want to let them down," he said.

Keatley said that now that the Heineken quarter-final is secured, they can slot it into fixture list and concentrate on the Pro12 between now and then.

There has been huge change at Munster since Keatley arrived over 18 months ago. It is not just the departure of the Tony McGahan coaching ticket, but particularly in the number of players who are no longer there.

"There have been a lot of changes. Guys like Barry Murphy and Ian Dowling had left just before I arrived, and then last season so many legends -- Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, David Wallace, Denis Leamy and so on -- all departed.

"A lot of sides would struggle with such change, so to have reached the quarter-finals is not bad in the circumstances.

"Securing qualification on Sunday has put a lot more certainty into the season. We are just off a play-off spot in the Rabo and the Six Nations is a real opportunity for guys to take their chance."

Keatley thrives on game time and is blessed with good fortune on the injury front and he is looking forward to the remainder of the season.

He won his only two Ireland caps on the summer tour to the United States and Canada during the last Lions tour in 2009, but he has not given up hope of adding to them.

He will feature off the bench against the England Saxons this evening at the Sportsground, the Galway venue where he developed for three seasons with Connacht after moving from the Leinster Academy.

"Of course I harbour the ambition to add to those caps, but I feel I am still learning and can add more to my game. I'm enjoying my rugby and want to play every week. I'm not that injury-prone and have only missed two games in five years, so, hopefully, that will continue.

"I'm looking forward to going back to the Sportsground. I think it is great for Galway and Connacht that the IRFU have taken this game there.

"I enjoyed my time with Connacht and have won both matches having gone back there with Munster, so, hopefully, that run will continue this evening," he added.

The possible move of Leinster's Jonny Sexton to France did not impact on his decision to extend his Munster contract and he is delighted to have signed a new two-year deal.

"I didn't want to go anywhere and they wanted me to stay, so it was easy to come to an agreement. It has been the most straightforward one so far.

"Dublin is where I'm from and where my family are, but I live in Limerick and am really enjoying it," said Keatley, who shares a house a few minutes from the training base in University of Limerick with Felix Jones and Barry O'Mahony.

LEARNING

Keatley has chalked up 39 appearances since arriving in the summer of 2011, with 11 of them off the bench. He scored 189 points in his maiden season in 16 starts and five as a replacement.

So far this season he has accumulated 107 points in 12 starts and six more after coming on.

"I feel I'm learning a lot from the coaches and am adding something to my game all the time. I'm enjoying what I do and there is still a lot of rugby to be played this season.

"I'm enjoying being in with Ireland this week. You just never know in this game when an opportunity will open up and you have to be ready for it. It is all about hard work and taking those chances when they appear in front of you and I feel that has worked for me this season.

"It is about working on the small parts of your game, seizing every small bit that helps it improve and go from there," added the former Belverdere College and UCD player.

Not every week will have as much drama as this one, but Wayne Barnes will probably be as pleased about that as anyone.

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