Saturday 16 December 2017

Dempsey confident Kearney can silence his critics in house of Payne

Leinster's backs coach believes his 'incredible' successor will be more than a match for Ulster star

Leinster backs coach Girvan Dempsey Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE
Leinster backs coach Girvan Dempsey Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Throughout many of his 82 games for Ireland, Girvan Dempsey had the gallery against him, so he knows how Rob Kearney is feeling this season.

The former full-back wasn't always a popular choice among fans and pundits when Eddie O'Sullivan invariably picked him ahead of Geordan Murphy and he sees parallels with how his successor has been treated this season as popular opinion moved against the Louthman.

Kearney has been first-choice in the Leinster and Ireland No 15 shirts ever since taking over from Dempsey in 2008, but this year he has come in for more criticism than ever before due to a perceived conservatism in attack.

The 30-year-old has been hampered with a back injury throughout the campaign that has stifled his attempts to get a clean run of games under his belt, but he has been picked whenever fit.

In his absence, Simon Zebo played well in the final two Six Nations games for Ireland, while Jared Payne's form for Ulster at full-back has seen renewed calls for the Kiwi to play in what many believe is his best position for his adopted country.

On Saturday, the duo are likely to go head-to-head at the Kingspan Stadium when Leinster travel north to take on their neighbours in a crucial Guinness Pro12 clash and Dempsey, now the province's backs coach, believes the criticism is unwarranted.

"I've been there and as a player, as any professional sportsperson, you've got to be able to take that because everyone has an opinion on your performance out there," he said.

"I've gone through that as a player and you see some guys use it as a motivational tool, other guys obviously use it in different ways.

"But look, there's no issues.

"Rob's incredible. I've known him since his first training session coming in as a kid to Leinster and seeing him as a player over the years, going on to play for the British and Irish Lions, getting so many international caps ... he's a fantastic player.

"Rob Kearney is one of the best international full-backs out there. I think where you see Jared, obviously will depend on where Ulster select him.

"Ulster have so many quality backs to select from, they've got a lot of potential for moving guys into different positions.

"No, Rob's been outstanding and I think he's been frustrated through injuries in the last while. I think that's what has held him back."

Dempsey is an admirer of Payne, who has won all of his 14 caps for Ireland in the centre.

"Jared is a quality player, I think you look at him and he has the potential to play in any position," he said.

"He's a really smart footballer, I think he gets a huge amount of respect within any squad he's been in, the ability to play in both positions, depending on where clubs and coaches select him, I think he can fit into any team."

Sean O'Brien is nearing a return to the Leinster team and Dempsey said the Ireland flanker is in with a shout of featuring against Ulster this weekend.

"We'll see how he comes through in training, but hopefully, yeah," the Terenure man said when asked if O'Brien is available on Saturday.

"If he gets through that and the physios are happy with him getting through the workload then, yeah."

Johnny Sexton is back after being rested against Edinburgh, while Marty Moore is available after playing for Lansdowne against Young Munster two weeks ago and Peter Dooley has recovered from his hamstring strain.

Dempsey says the coaches will have no hesitation in recalling returning players despite their long absences.

"You look at the player on merit, on how he's training. If he's capable of it, then you'd have no problem putting him in," he said.

"Particularly guys with experience,"

Irish Independent

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