Monday 21 January 2019

Two Cooley brothers who are on top of their game

RUGBY's Kearney brothers were already household names because of their fantastic achievements on the field, but there was still something a bit special about watching them guesting on the iconic Late Late Show on Friday night.

First onto the stage for a chat with Ryan Tubridy, they talked eloquently about Leinster and Ireland and also life growing up on the family farm in Cooley - and sitting proudly in the audience were their parents David and Siobhan.

Despite the glare of the TV cameras it was all very relaxed - the calm before the storm, perhaps, as Ireland prepare to kick off their Six Nations Championship campaign against Scotland in Aviva Stadium next Sunday (3pm).

With the announcement of the match-day squad imminent, the brothers are engrossed in training, with the elder Rob a near certain starter for his 50th cap at full back, Dave less sure of a place having only begun his international career in the Autumn Internationals, so who better than David senior to tackle the questions and let the boys concentrate on the rugby.

'It was a nice experience, obviously,' agreed David, reflecting on his sons' latest moment in the TV spotlight.

'Rob is well able to talk and Dave is fairly relaxed and nothing fazes him too much. All the questions were central to what they do and Ryan Tubridy is very professional and puts them all at ease.

'As you saw, he met them the day before in Merrion Square and that was an ice-breaker for them. I suppose that contributed to them being more relaxed.

'Once they did their bit they went straight home, but it was about five minutes to 12 when we left. After the show Ryan thanks the audience and says good night, and since then we've had a lot of nice messages from people who saw the show.'

Sport was always at the forefront in the Kearney household and David and Siobhan gave their children every encouragement in playing whatever ball game was flavour of the month.

'We live out in Cooley in a rural area, as you know, and there were three boys - [Richard is the eldest] - and our daughter Sara and we were trying to keep them occupied. They were typical boys, into every sport, and the advantage of being in the country is that every sport is very accessible.

'There was Gaelic, soccer, tennis in Dundalk, golf in Greenore and sports facilities in the Ballymac. Not so much rugby, but they played a bit of mini-rugby in Dundalk and we actually had a mini-rugby team in Bellurgan and that's where they started first of all.'

Naturally, given the three-year age gap, it was Rob (27) who showed promise first and Dave has always been playing catch-up - not that it concerns the Six Nations rookie in the slightest.

'It was immediately apparent with Robert, or Rob, at four, five or six years of age, that he had it all,' David recalled.

'Dave was a lighter boy growing up and didn't have the same potential at that age. It wasn't until he hit 15 or 16 that he really began to grow into it. He worked hard at it even back then and made good progress and got onto the Irish Schools team and then the Under-20s.

'Dave is the type of person that it suits him following Rob. He would be quite laid-back, determined in his own way, and doesn't let things bother him and wouldn't have been remotely envious of the success that Rob had.

'It was better that way round, that Dave was younger, because it would have been more difficult for Rob.'

Long before their adulthood, the boys had learned how to conduct themselves in the right way and Dad feels good behaviour has to be drummed into young sportsmen from the moment they start playing. Only then can they be sure of being good role models if and when they make it in the professional game.

'I suppose it's the same with any child starting out in sport - be it soccer, Gaelic or rugby at Under-6 level. You start to talk to them and influence them at that age, tell them just to get on with the game. The ref is the boss - no cheek, no dirty play.

'That's when you instil the discipline, tell them to show respect for their fellow players and the opposition, and they don't really change after that.'

While both brothers played Gaelic for Cooley Kickhams and Rob actually lined out in the 2004 Senior Championship Final defeat to St Patrick's, perhaps they were always destined to follow in the footsteps of their rugby-playing father - not that he ever enjoyed the same level of success. Anything but!

'I come from a rugby background as well and went to Clongowes school in Kildare like them,' David recalled. 'I played at Towns Cup level with Dundalk from when I left school but didn't have much success with them. They won the Cup the year before I joined and the year after I retired!

'My dad was a very keen rugby man as well and I've been going to internationals since I was 12.'

At this stage David and Siobhain are well accustomed to sitting in the packed stands watching their boys playing, and one of the highlights was seeing them togging out together for Ireland in the Autumn Series - when Dave scored two tries on his debut against Samoa and then nearly became part of Irish rugby folklore as Ireland suffered an agonisingly last-gasp defeat to the best team in the world, New Zealand.

'We don't know if they will run out together on Sunday because there's a lot of guys there for the back three positions,' David explained, 'but the experience of watching them running out for the Samoa and then the New Zealand game was very special. I don't know how to put it into words.

'I'm not saying it's mind- boggling, but you do feel very privileged, and the game itself is like a tightrope walk. When you get to the far side there's relief if you've won, but if you lose - like they did against New Zealand - it's really gutting.'

It's all systems go now for Sunday and each player will have his own personal routine to pass the time in between training, eating and sleeping.

'Coming up to a big match they would both be extremely focused - no superstitions or anything like that. Dave would get nicely nervous - I don't think anything too extreme - but they'd both feel sharp and confident and they are really looking forward to the Six Nations.

'On match day, whether it's home or away, they would probably go and get some physio in the morning, and after that they'd more or less chill out, watch DVDs or have a sleep in the afternoon.

'Evening kick-offs are tough because it's a really, really long day and they certainly prefer the games at 2.30 or 3 o'clock.

'They will have a pretty good idea about where we're sitting and might have a sneak look up during the national anthem. They choose to stand together. The players all get on, but a lot of guys stand by their mates.

'After the game there's a reception for the players, family and friends and the opposing team and there might be 200 or 300 people at that in the Aviva.

'You could be waiting an hour and a half for the teams to come up because they're exhausted and have to shower, regroup and do a bit of recovery, and then they might only be there for a few minutes before they go off to the team dinner.

'On paper Ireland should win, but the Scots always fancy themselves against Ireland and are always a really hard team to beat.'

The Argus