'It's great to be able to get a run of games and be involved'
Big Interview: Mick Kearney
In the blink of an eye Mick Kearney is suddenly in his fourth season at Leinster Rugby but also approaching his 28th birthday next month. Not old by any definition of the word but the young bucks coming through the Leinster Academy have a way of reminding him and anyone else that cares to listen that father time waits for no man.
"I suppose I am that bit older and the last year or so I have found myself really enjoying my rugby, almost taking stock midweek and looking around at these young lads and being very grateful for the opportunities presented. And even more so if you are in the match-day squad and making the most of it because I really enjoy training and playing with these guys. A great group of lads. I'm enjoying my rugby now, feel good and it's great to be able to get a run at the moment and to be involved again this week."
Fifty-three players have pulled on that jersey this season with Jack Dunne being the most recent player last weekend against Zebre. This evening young Academy hooker Rónan Kelleher will be next up.
"Rónan has been great. He's done really well this season in the Celtic Cup and he has just grown and grown since then. Playing in the AIL with Lansdowne has also helped him but now he is ready to take the next step. We are all rooting for him and wish him well."
Rónan is the brother of current Connacht player Cian so it will be another proud moment for the Kelleher family when the 21-year-old runs out at the RDS. His throws will look for the calm presence of Kearney in the second-row undoubtedly.
"Ross Molony does a great job calling the lineout and between himself and Rónan they'll have a plan in place for how best to go after the Kings on Friday. The rest of us then have to have our detail down to ensure it all looks as simple as it should be."
Kearney speaks with a calm assurance and his 6' 5" and over 18 stone presence must also be a comfort to the likes of Kelleher. It might be but he doesn't get the impression that they need it.
"These guys are good to go. You see these 20-year-olds walking onto the training pitch and they look like they belong from day one. I think huge credit is due to the players themselves and how they apply themselves but also to the likes of Joe McGinley, the Academy S&C coach, for the work he has done with them.
"Everything is geared towards them coming in here and performing and then it's up to the rest of us to make sure their first experience in a Leinster shirt is a positive one."
The respect he has for the younger crop is easy to see and it is also crossing over into his spare time. Where once he was doing woodwork classes and bringing rickety old cabinets home to be stored in the shed, he now invests his spare minutes in the U-20s in Clontarf. They tasted success last weekend when taking home the JP Fanagan League title.
"The team is really well coached by Brendan Fanning, Ciarán Kavanagh and Karl Curran for the last four years and they are a great bunch of lads. I help with the forwards, lineout work and also work they do inside the 22.
"We talk about it in Leinster all the time, or the coaches do, having everything in place so that the players can perform to their best and that's all that we as a coaching team with Clontarf try to do too. For example, Karl has a gym in East Wall, KoCoon Fitness, and the lads can access that free of charge. It's little things but they all add up. Then it's all on the players and they've been great."
To this week and the challenge facing Leinster against the Southern Kings, Kearney is mindful that they need to learn the lessons of last week if they are to earn a similar result.
"I think this week we need to find the balance. What happens when you get ahead like that? 21-0 up after the first half an hour, what next? Why did we give Zebre life? Why did we go from bad, to bad, to bad. We couldn't find a positive moment. Why was that? I think we have identified why and we have addressed it so that hopefully if we are in that position again we will be the better for it."
Complaints about Zebre or the Southern Kings and what they are bringing to the table fall on deaf ears for players who just want to focus on beating the team that's in front of them. But Kearney admits that they enjoyed the role afforded them last weekend with the Zebre game moved from the traditional home stadium in Parma to Viadana, almost half an hour away.
"As champions especially, but I think ask any club. You want to help to promote rugby, but promote the Guinness PRO14 as well and the reigning champions coming to town was a big deal for them in Viadana. The crowd got behind it and there was a great energy to the place. They had another game on afterwards featuring Viadana themselves so our game was obviously a good way of getting crowds in and to show the locals what this game is about.
"It was good to meet the mascots and the kids before the game and then to mingle afterwards with the locals and sign autographs or whatever. We were happy to play our part but I suppose happier still to get the win."
On the walls of the tunnel leading out from the changing rooms in Viadana, pictures are mounted of the teams that have lost at this stadium over the years. Like a trophy hunter's cabin. Reminders of big game that have fallen. Images of Connacht and Munster, Edinburgh, Benetton but none of Leinster and Kearney was happy to keep it that way.
"Absolutely! And that will again be the focus this week. Not so much about not losing to the Kings or giving them that scalp, more about us just focusing on what we can do to be better than we were last week. Like I said earlier, we are building again now after a break and hopefully now with the first game under our belts we will just continue to build into this week and into Friday. We haven't been in the RDS in a few weeks too so looking forward to having a crowd with us again."