Tuesday 12 December 2017

Kearney eager to throw off shackles in Blues ’Houdini bid

David Kelly

David Kelly

New year. New attitude. New possibilities.

Before Rob Kearney took to the field for the second time in this awkwardly abbreviated campaign against Edinburgh last Friday, he had played just 31 minutes of rugby.

Half an hour. Half an athlete.

Half his mind too, wandering, so distracted as he recovered from the not insignificant incision to amend the same bulging disc that is once more afflicting his good friend, Paul O'Connell.

Now, at least, his glass is getting fuller as he contemplates his timely return to Leinster blue and their desperate assault to retain their Heineken Cup crown over the next eight days.

It is often marvellous how simply so many doubts can dissipate upon the breeze when an athlete feels the imposing solidity of turf beneath his feet, when for so much time he has been seemingly dangling in limbo.

"It was a difficult time because for a couple of months there was a lot of uncertainty there," the 2009 Lions and multi-medalled star reveals.

"The only difficulty with that is you feel that you're wasting time. So that was a bit of a difficulty right there.

"But in terms of the recovery, I was really happy that it was only 10 weeks. At first, I was told 12 to 16. But when you've got good targets to come back for, like these big games in Europe, it tends to focus you a little more.

"It's a problem I've had for a few years. I knew I was going to have to get something done with it sooner or later. The timing probably wasn't ideal this year. Touch wood it's all behind me now.

"I feel good. There's still a little bit of daily stiffness. It will take time before I'm back to 100pc. But at least I'm able to take to the field, which is the main thing.

"It's not ideal. I would have liked maybe a bit more time but I have to feel fortunate as well that I am back in at a time where I can play some Heineken rugby again. The lungs were blowing a bit last week after 50 or 60 minutes but my back felt good and that had to be the priority for me.

"I have a lot of good players around me when I take the field at the weekend but there has to be a little bit of an onus on me to bring something to the game because I have missed those last four group matches.

"So there's a bit of pressure but that can only be good at times.

"I was quite lucky even though 10 weeks is not ideal obviously. I should be back fit now for the rest of the season. Six months is a lot of rugby to play. This is the business end of the season."

Kearney, who only featured for nine minutes of Leinster's first Heineken Cup triumph before missing their second altogether through injury, appreciates the timeliness of his return, even as his side clings on to qualification by their collective fingertips.

Reaching this juncture has been the most important journey and while the onward destiny may be uncertain, he can, at the very least, broach it on his own terms.

The road to recovery may have been difficult, particularly after his woes were exacerbated by a hefty knock taken in Galway on his seasonal debut in September, but the patient was thankful to have an empathetic colleague close at hand.

When O'Connell underwent his surgery a fortnight ago, Kearney was eager to repay the favour.

"Yeah, we'd a good chat the night before his surgery," says the 26-year-old, who has suffered his fair share of injury heartache, particularly in the latter stages of this competition.

"We had very similar injuries. Obviously we're in different positions and we need our backs for different things! Again, Paul's timing probably wasn't ideal for him.

"There was a lot of humming and hawing.

"But I'm glad for him now that he's finally made the decision. He'll get it sorted. And if it's 10 or 12 or 14 weeks when he's back, he'll still have a lot to add to the season as well."

Kearney appreciates that there will be pressure on his shoulders to aid Leinster's mission improbable in the final two rounds of the Heineken Cup; however, his time on the treatment table has injected him with a cautionary approach.

"Scarlets are a very strong defensive side and our try-scoring record for the past couple of months hasn't been superb either," he reasons.

"We know we are up against it and to say that we need four tries – you can't call that just yet and it is much more of a press-driven thing.

"We haven't spoken much about it and it would be disrespectful to the opposition if we were behind the scenes talking like that.

"That is not the kind of team we try to be. We're just going out to try and play. It's as simple as that."

When such simplicity seemed at times almost unattainable, it is so much easier for him to place Leinster's Heineken Cup conundrum in context.

Irish Independent

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