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Kearney out to scratch a seven-year itch

IRELAND full-back Rob Kearney is out for 12 weeks with an injury that has hampered him on and off for close to seven years.

"I have been dealing with this problem for a long time. I first got it on St Stephen's Day 2005 against Ulster in the Celtic League at Ravenhill," he said, in a stunning revelation.

"It was actually Brian's (O'Driscoll) first game back after his shoulder operation from the Lions tour to New Zealand that summer."

It was the start of O'Driscoll's road back to redemption and the start of Kearney's relationship with a disc injury that was operated on almost seven years later.

"I first aggravated it lifting weights in the gym a few weeks before that Ulster game and then took a knock on it in that game.

"It has been bothering me since then. But it got really bad last year. It put me in doubt for the week of the Heineken Cup final last season," he said.

The simple fact is that Kearney played through the pain barrier so that he could finally start a Heineken Cup final, having come on as a replacement in the 2009 final and having missed out entirely on the 2011 final due to a serious knee injury that destroyed that season.

"When I went on tour to New Zealand in June, it got worse and worse. It probably should have been looked after then. But it wasn't."

It would have been the perfect time to finally put an end to an injury that caused shooting pains to register down Kearney's leg.

Management

For whatever reason, the medical advice pushed for management of the injury rather than an operation. That has been shown to be the wrong course of action.

"I damaged it again a few weeks ago. I took a bang on it making a tackle on the Tuesday before The Scarlets game. It made it a lot worse. I got it scanned the next day. That revealed more damage."

He was operated on last Thursday week and given a 12-week return-to-play date that would put him back to work on the week of January 17.

This is right on the cusp of the fifth and sixth rounds of the Heineken Cup.

"It was a simple enough procedure. The rehab for it is to either lie down or stand up for two weeks. It is pretty annoying, frustrating, call it what you want," stated Kearney.

Vulnerable

"The area is very vulnerable. So, you have to be really careful with it from week 2-6. From there, you can get more aggressive with it, in terms of rehabbing it."

There must linger a temptation to push the boundaries of the surgeon's say-so. The conflict exists between what Kearney wants and what is right for him.

"You might steal a week, two weeks if everything goes really well. I was back quicker than I expected from the serious knee injury two seasons ago.

"I like to think I am a quick healer. But, when you deal with surgeons, they are rightly not keen on you pushing the timeframe that they have set out.

"When you are in this situation, your primary concern and everything you do on a daily basis is geared towards getting you back on the field as quickly as possible."

He will have to swallow the hammer-blows of missing out on the November internationals where he would have been on a shortlist for the Ireland captaincy.

Indeed, his usual supremacy could have been good enough for a World Player of the Year nomination. Afterall, Kearney holds the European Player of the Year award.

There is also the small matter of the back-to-back Heineken Cup matches with Clermont-Auvergne.

"I missed the last ones two years ago which was disappointing and missing out on the November series is also tough.

"But these things happen. And there are worse things that can happen. If I am back in January for a six-, seven-month season, I will consider that a pretty good return on the season."

The lure of the British and Irish Lions is there dangling for the man who ruled the airways over South Africa during the 2-1 defeat by the Springboks in 2009.

Is it the be-all and end-all? "It is always going to be a goal. It is every player's goal. That is the ultimate this season," he acknowledged.

"I really can't look that far ahead. If I am not performing by the fifth and sixth rounds of the Heineken and the Six Nations, I won't be selected to go on the tour to Australia in the summer."

Pinnacle

Here is where Kearney departs from the mythology of the Lions. There is a clear dichotomy between personal and collective achievement.

"I wouldn't say it is the biggest achievement of my career. For every player, the Lions tours are the pinnacle of what you can achieve as an individual.

"But, your team achievements have to outweigh your individual ones. The 2009 grand slam and the 2012 Heineken Cup are the two that stand out," he said.

What is there after those? "You can do it all again. Instead of having one grand slam you can have two; instead of three Heineken Cups, you can have four.

"Players get greedy. Given what we do, we compete on a daily, weekly basis. You need to have a strong competitive edge to succeed in this game. That is part and parcel of professionalism in any sport."

And playing through the pain barrier too.


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