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Kearney: leinster better than ever

If you are looking for an example of substance over style, look no further than Rob Kearney.

At a time when players and agents look to the media for traction in their contract negotiations, the Ireland full-back has always preferred to conduct his business out of the public eye.

The expected to-and-fro between Kearney and the IRFU will be carried out in relative quiet.

He is one man who knows the price of his contract - and the value of it too.

There is a lot more to Kearney extending his contract at Leinster than the immediate impact of the higher earnings he can wage from the French clubs which showed interest in him last season.

"I think everyone realises we all want our homegrown players to stay, your best international players to stay," he said at the announcement of the five-year extension of Bank of Ireland's sponsorship of Leinster.


"The key for the IRFU is to make sure that non-financial incentives outweigh the other side - your facilities, you're playing at a competitive club, you're playing for silverware every year, you're at home, you're with friends, you've got your family here.

"More often than not, they may outweigh the couple of hundred grand bonus on the other side."

Even though Kearney still has a season to run on his contract, he believes the indecision that allowed Jonathan Sexton to leave Ireland may work in favour of the players.

"I'm 13 months out from (the end of) my contract. I will probably start soon. The sooner the better these things are done," he said.

"From an IRFU perspective, why wait four or five months for French clubs to start sniffing around and then making it a bone of contention for players? Just get them done early. Get everyone signed up."

Kearney has also shown his hand as one who lends time and energy to those below him in the players' pecking order one year into his role as the Chairman of the Irish Rugby Union Players Association.

"What does it entail? I suppose it is about improving relationships between the players and the union. It is not so much your top 10 to 15 guys, who are earning the good money, who get well looked after.

"It is more the Academies, the development players, making sure that they are getting well looked after.

"So that there's lots of options for them so that when the time comes for them to leave rugby that they are able to make that transition.

"It is probably more those guys who are the focus of the work."

When the two-time British & Irish Lion looks around Leinster, he is filled with a sense of 'anything is possible' ahead of the start of another season. "You have no idea, just sitting back watching training, it fills you with a huge sense of excitement, relief and a fair bit of pride too at what the province has created over the last number of years," said Kearney.

"The strength and depth in these young guys coming through is incredible. It is by far the best it's ever been.

"That competition has become more and more competitive. Even this year now when there will probably be a lot of international players gone away you're going to see a lot of new names in the team.

"That will be a great sign of it too but you can't really properly judge guys until they get to that top level and are exposed to the Guinness or European Championship."

Just this year, specialist Academy full-backs Billy Dardis, 19, and Cian Kelleher, 20, have already shown Kearney against Northampton Saints in last Saturday's pre-season match how deep is the pool of talent. "Yeah, you've got Billy there and Cian. Those two guys are probably the two very young guys. There's a few ahead of them too.


"I think I was really lucky when I came through. Denis (Hickie, pictured) got an injury in training one day and I was next in whereas, nowadays, the 19- and 20-year-olds have to serve their time a little bit and wait. You might get one opportunity and if you don't take it then you're back to the back of the queue."

In terms of what coach Matt O'Connor will do differently to move Leinster on from PRO12 League champions to the elevated status of European champions, there could be a return to the old attacking razzle-dazzle.

"Yes, I think there was a huge improvement in our defence last year. I suppose we'll be maintaining that and keeping it consistent," he considered. "Our attack play last year was below where we were capable of so I imagine that will get a bit more attention now this season".