Sunday 21 July 2019

Forgotten man Kearney states aim to exchange wilderness for World Cup

Dave Kearney. Photo: Sportsfile
Dave Kearney. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Shane Ross might have remembered him but many in Irish sport could be forgiven for forgetting about Dave Kearney.

Now he is back to remind them all and, he hopes, draw a veil over a frustrating two years mostly spent in the wilderness.

Professional athletes have no control over the injuries that occur to their bodies, only the mental response to them.

Kearney should have had enough knowledge of the former to help him negotiate the latter but, it seemed, the more he escaped from the scourge of injury, the travails of trying to prove something to himself trapped him inside an interminable loop.

"I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to perform well because I knew how important it would be in getting selected the next week," he says.

"You put pressure on yourself every week but you are forcing and over-thinking things."

That was only when he felt fit; the times when his fitness faltered knocked him back even more.

"The toughest part for me the last few years has just been getting consistent game time really. I'd get back fit, have a couple of games and pick up another knock and be out for another few weeks. Stuff like that just kept adding up."

The injuries were never destructive - ankle, toe, calf, adductor for example - but they were personally debilitating.

Until featuring in January, it had been over two years since he last featured in a Champions Cup squad; two years also since he won the last of his 17 Irish caps against Fiji, a day featuring his fourth try but also the lingering memory of a sloppy pass which he doesn't want to be his final memory in green.

He was almost the forgotten man of Irish rugby; well, save for Sports Minister Ross, who mistakenly congratulated him instead of brother Rob following Ireland's 2018 Grand Slam success.

Joe Schmidt, who featured him strongly in his 2014 Six Nations title win, hadn't disregarded him, though, name-checking the winger when naming his squad for this campaign after completing his first back-to-back games in 15 months.

"I had a chat before the squad was announced," reveals the 29-year-old. "He was really happy with my progress over the last couple of months.

"I think the big thing for him was, a similar to trend over the last few months, that I need to be getting game time at that level, consistently, which I probably didn't have before that.

"A goal of mine is, hopefully if things go well for me, is that I can get back in to the Six Nations squad. Then there's a World Cup in September which is definitely still another goal of mine."

Being strong in mind and body is key, though, even before he begins to think of the raft of talent who have surpassed him in recent times for club and country, from Jordan Larmour, Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Conway through to Adam Byrne and Darren Sweetnam. Which is why his soaring, salmon leap in scoring against Toulouse, in a high-profile, high-octane performance must have so thrilled him.

Just a few weeks beforehand, he had suffered an adductor strain in the warm-up ahead of his side's PRO14 clash with Munster and he had also missed out against Connacht.

But against Toulouse, in every way, he would get his timing right.

He didn't dwell on its significance at the time but he can afford to do so now.

"It had been a while since I'd been part of... a great Leinster day," he sighs, self-assured. "One of the best teams in Europe coming to the RDS and we put in a great performance, getting a great win.

"It had been a while since I got that feeling of..." Another self-satisfied sigh.

"Being happy. Playing. And putting in a good performance with the other 22 lads in the room.

"I guess I did enjoy it, the day after. Then that's the thing. You've got a big week again. We moved on straight away. But I did enjoy it."

Irish Independent

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