'Rugby is gone cruel these days' - Keith Earls on Fitzgerald injury
Published 02/08/2016 | 02:30
The parallels between the careers of Keith Earls and Luke Fitzgerald are remarkably similar but the Munster player doesn't need any reminding that he is one of the 'lucky' ones.
Ireland has rarely produced two more naturally gifted players than Earls and Fitzgerald and the way in which both starred on the pitch during their school days left no one in any doubt that they were destined for the top.
Earls' try in the 2006 Munster Senior Cup final has become a part of Limerick folklore, while in the same year, Fitzgerald was also sensational as he won up his second Leinster Senior Cup medal with Blackrock.
Ten years on and both men are 28 but as Earls contends with a brutal pre-season schedule, Fitzgerald is facing the reality of premature retirement.
In the end it was a neck injury that ended Fitzgerald's career and the battering that his body took over the years can easily compared to Earls' injury profile.
The former St Munchin's College student has been through his fair share injury nightmares but last season he enjoyed a prolonged spell in both the Munster and Ireland team.
Having shifted all across the back-line throughout his career, Earls believes that he has finally found a permanent home on the wing.
"I was playing just shy of 12 months. We finished up on the 25th of June this year, and we started on the 27th June last year," he explains.
"Thankfully, the body held up, but with the season we had with Munster, as well, mentally it was tough.
"Hopefully being on the wing, I might get a couple more years, ideally I'd like to play until I'm 35, we'll see how the body feels.
"I've at least another three years anyhow, please God. Rugby is gone cruel these days - you see Luke Fitzgerald over the summer having to retire. We're lucky.
"Luke was one of these fellas who'd play through injuries, a lot of players do it. His injury was fairly bad, in the neck, it's a delicate part of the body too, but he just wanted to carry on. His neck gave in.
"He had a lot of knee injuries, as well, he put his body on the line every time and he's a massive loss for Leinster and Irish rugby; one of the best talents the country's ever seen."
While it has taken Earls some time to find a regular spot in the same position, it has equally been as challenging for him to find the ideal weight.
Pep Guardiola has wasted little time in putting his foot down at Manchester City as he banned his players from eating pizza and Earls can certainly relate to that.
"I've been in and around here since I was 19, but it took me up to last year to find my ideal weight, find what food agrees with me. I was constantly trying to be 95kg but my natural weight now is 86-88kg," he says.
"I think that's why I kept breaking down, trying to put on weight. I was too heavy and my body wasn't able to carry it.
"After my operation on my knee, I worked with a restaurant in Limerick called 'Gasta' - real healthy stuff, all sweet potato, brown rice, they delivered food out to me for eight weeks and I got into the best condition I ever was.
"We're monitored now with dexa scans, it shows how much fat you've put on, how much lean muscle, and I suppose you're looking at a fella's lifestyle as well.
"If he's not in good condition you have to look at his habits, and the habits he'd bring on to the field probably wouldn't be so good either. That's where Guardiola probably got that from."
Munster are well into their pre-season regime under Rassie Erasmus and new defence coach Jacques Nienaber and for Earls it is a chance to impress and build on an excellent season.
"It's obviously going to be different," Earls admits. "There's been a lot of meetings, Rassie and Jacques getting their detail, and how we want to play, and how they want us to defend. I'm looking forward to it. Myself and Conor (Murray) met him by accident in South Africa in the team hotel and had a chat with him. It was an exciting chat and I'm really looking forward to working with him.
"It was brief, but it's exciting and having Axel (Foley) there as well, a coach we know really well - it seems to be working really well, the three of them." Earls was speaking at the launch of the alternative Munster jersey at Life Style Sports