Kearney keen to lead by example and guide Blues' next generation
With the changing of the guard well under way at Leinster, players are beginning to adjust to their new roles.
For Rob Kearney, it doesn't seem like that long ago that he was stepping into Denis Hickie's shoes to make his debut but Leinster's new vice-captain and chairman of the Irish Rugby Union Players Association (IRUPA) insists that the dynamic of the province's structures have dramatically changed since those days.
Kearney along with Sean O'Brien will assist Jamie Heaslip this season as they collectively look to fill the void left behind by Brian O'Driscoll and Leo Cullen. The full-back took over as chairman of the IRUPA from Jonathan Sexton last September and he admits that he has already come to grips with what is a vital role in Irish rugby.
"I'm enjoying it. It's a fair bit of work. There's quite a bit to it. It's about improving relationships between the players and the union. It's not so much your top 10-15 guys, who are earning the good money and get well looked after.
"It's more the Academies, the development players - making sure that they are getting well looked after - that there's lots of options for them so that when the time comes for them to leave rugby, they are able to make that transition."
Kearney's new responsibility should allow him to slot seamlessly into his vice-captaincy but you get the impression that he has been one of the main leaders within the squad for a while now. As he recalls the days of looking up to Hickie, the Louth native is adamant that the volume of quality young players coming through the ranks means that it's even harder for guys to get an opportunity in the senior side.
"You have no idea," he says of the Academy's standard. "Just sitting back watching training, it fills you with a huge sense of excitement, relief and a fair bit of pride too at what the province has created over the last number of years. The strength and depth in these young guys coming through is incredible. It is by far the best it has ever been.
"I think I was really lucky when I came through. Denis (Hickie) got an injury in training one day and I was next in. Whereas nowadays the 19- and 20-year olds have to serve their time a little bit and wait. You might get one opportunity and if you don't take it then you're back to the back of the queue," he adds.
Matt O'Connor has confirmed that O'Driscoll will mentor new signing Ben Te'o when he arrives in Ireland but, according to Kearney, that won't be the only sort of guidance given by the more senior players within the squad.
"We're in the process of putting together a sort of mentoring programme. You have to be very careful how you do it because it's very important that we're not creating a hierarchy in the organisation. With the younger guys like Billy (Dardis) and Cian (Kelleher), for the organisation to be successful we need them to feel as if they can compete and play in the first team. So if they're coming to guys who are on the first team and looking for advice and mentoring, it sort of might alleviate that a little bit. But if you can bring it to a balance between the two then I think that's where a mentoring programme can be very strong and helpful."