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Waiting game for big break

You know the old adage about taking one step back to take two steps forward? About stepping-stones paving the way to future success?

Well, for David Kearney it was a case of 'back to the future' last weekend. It began with a shaking of the cobwebs in Navan RFC on Thursday evening when he impressed for Leinster 'A' in their defeat by Ulster.

Friday evening was spent watching some of his provincial team-mates in action some 112 kilometres up the N6 for the Ireland Under-20s -- an age group which he graduated from only this year -- and Saturday was spent supporting Ireland's defence of their Grand Slam title. So that was Kearney's week. Except that he was also asked to train with the Ireland squad in the build up to the Italy opener.

If anything it whet the appetite. He saw at first hand the skill levels and the standards required to compete at the top level. Though he left the Ireland camp with a bounce in his step, he knows that there's a lot of hard graft before he can think of claiming international honours.

For Kearney that journey is underway. The next step is Sandy Park in Exeter where, tomorrow afternoon, Leinster will hope to make it three out of three in the fledgling competition.

"Another opportunity against a very strong side", is how the 20-year-old describes the contest ahead of the trip to England.

"Playing against the provinces is good because of the intense rivalry and bragging rights that are at stake, but it's great to have a structured competition to play in a new culture against a team who will probably have a big local support behind them.

"It's good to travel and play new sides in different environments. It's great preparation for those of us on the fringes who are trying to break into the Magners League and Heineken Cup squads over the next few weeks. I see this game as a good opportunity to impress at a high level against a side who are close to Guinness Premiership level."

Describing the squad's goals for the British & Irish Cup, Kearney stresses the desire to perform well and win the trophy. "So in that regard there isn't a whole lot different in terms of how we're going to approach this game," he insists.

"It's a cliché, but you learn an awful lot in these types of games playing alongside the likes of Shaun Berne, Fogs (John Fogarty), Trevor Hogan and Stephen Keogh.

"If you take the Plymouth game back in November when we were under the cosh for spells in the second half, Shaun was very composed, as if he knew what to expect and you learn how to cope in pressure situations.

"The older players, even those in my position, have all been hugely helpful in giving you bits of information in training and in matches. I remember coming into the set-up first from the sub-Academy and it was a bit daunting at first, but you get on with things and that sense of nerves soon goes."

He credits his older brothers, Richard and provincial colleague Rob, with playing a key role in his own development. "I first became interested in rugby because of my eldest brother Richard who was on the Clongowes SCT. I must have been around eight going to see him in Donnybrook, but he got brains as he's pursuing a career in stock-broking!

"My dad (David) played the game but had to retire at a relatively young age through a knee injury but he's a big influence alongside mum (Siobhan) and my sister Sara.

"When Rob played schools rugby I got into the sport more and it kind of just kicked on from there. It's great to have a brother around the set-up because he has a lot of experience. I'm not sure if it makes it any easier or more difficult, but it's nice to have someone to talk to and bounce ideas off."

With four Magners League games under his belt, including three appearances this year, Kearney is making steady progress and the invitation to train with the Ireland squad was a further thrill.

"To train in Croke Park with all of the history that's involved there, alongside some of the best players in the world, was just amazing. It gives me goose-bumps just thinking about it. But what it really showed me was the level of intensity and the high standards that the top players maintain in their approach to games.

"Even if it's only for a couple of days, it does give you a taste of the top level of international rugby.

"Then if you take the quality of player in our Academy and the number of talented players who are playing for the Ireland Under-20s means that you'll be looking over your shoulder. It's exciting, a bit nerve-wracking, but I'm determined to take the chances that come my way."

Kearney's pragmatic approach means that he is focused firmly on the here and now. It's a policy that is keeping him on the right path.