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Leinster players' prize goes to Kearney

FULL_BACK Rob Kearney has the back of everyone in front of him and they have his, judging from his award as the Leinster Bank of Ireland Players' Player of the Year.

The former Louth minor Gaelic footballer has lorded the airways in his usual manner for club and country and added zest to his counter-attacking in what has been a stupendous season to this point.

Kearney stands on the threshold of an unprecedented season with the lure of a Heineken Cup-PRO12 League double still a possibility.

The next stop-off point will be Bordeaux for the Heineken Cup semi-final against French powerhouse Clermont-Auvergne next Sunday.


Of course, he would be the first in a queue of 22 to emphasise the overriding importance of the team ethic against the personal accolades and how they will all have to measure up in six days' time. Despite this, there is nothing to maintain the confidence of a player like the backing of his workmates. They know how much it takes, on and off the pitch.

Leinster's Young Player of the Year in his debut season 2005/2006 has risen to the very pinnacle of his profession as the British & Irish Lions test full-back against South Africa in 2009.

There is convincing evidence to insist the 26-year-old is now operating at an even higher level. He was nominated as Leinster's best ahead of last year's winner Isa Nacewa and fly-half Jonathan Sexton.

Since the Rugby World Cup, he has featured in 13 Leinster games, showing physicality in defence, imperious handling in the air and hitting home for seven tries, not forgetting that drop goal against Munster in the Aviva Stadium.

Back-up fly-half Ian Madigan (23) has taken a significant step in his fledgling career, earning the trust of coach Joe Schmidt as a legitimate option as a running, passing playmaker and the reward of Leinster's Young Player of the Year.

Madigan held the fort at home when Sexton was away at the World Cup and refused to return to the shadows all the way through to the Heineken Cup where he started against Montpellier in the Pool.

So far, he has played 23 games this season, scoring eight tries, to match the number of times he played for Leinster in the previous three seasons.

The Try of the Year owed everything to a pre-planned move and the technically exquisite execution that ended with the returning Brian O'Driscoll sliding over in the 34th minute of the Heineken Cup quarter-final victory over Cardiff Blues in the Aviva Stadium.

A special presentation was also made to Leinster legend Shane Horgan following his recent retirement as well as to several members of the Leinster squad who will be leaving the province at the end of the season.