Mick Kearney: 'If I miss out, I look to see why, and how I can improve'
Second-row happy to keep ticking over with Clontarf but he’s eager to climb pecking order after missing out on Lyon trip
While 23 Leinster Rugby players toiled in the heat of Lyon last weekend, back home the players not involved in France took to the fields of the All-Ireland League to represent their clubs.
It's a way of life for Leinster players most weekends, and with 51 players involved in the Guinness PRO12 or Champions Cup this year, injuries notwithstanding, that leaves 20 or so players idle on any given weekend. That is where the AIL and the links back to the club comes in.
"It's so important to have that link," explains second-row Mick Kearney, who starred for Clontarf in their All-Ireland League semi-final win against Young Munster that ensured their progression to a second AIL final in two years.
"Who wants to be a professional trainer? Nobody does. So the relationship with the clubs is a great way to keep lads match fit and tipping along because when the chance comes, and it will come, you have to be ready.
"For me Clontarf is the ideal place to come into and I've done it a few times this season."
Kearney has played 20 times for Leinster since his move from Connacht in summer 2015; alongside him in the Clontarf team last week were hooker Bryan Byrne Academy centre Conor O'Brien.
"Clontarf are a great club so it's really good running out with them because you know what you are getting into. Andy Wood and Simon Broughton have brought a really good culture to the team and the way they set us up to play, they give us a license," says Kearney.
"We are accountable for our actions but very much to each other. It is player driven.
"But it's the club as well. It's tight-knit. Everyone from the groundskeeper to the bar staff to those doing bits and pieces around the place… they are all invested in the club and with the facilities and the new pitch, it's a club heading in the right direction."
That direction is an All-Ireland League final in the Aviva on Sunday, May 7 in a repeat of last year's decider against Cork Con - but they will do so without last year's star man, Joey Carbery.
Whether Kearney will be there or not is the big question driving his ambition over the next few weeks. Glasgow Warriors tonight in the RDS and then Ulster away tomorrow week - the day before the AIL final.
"Look at the competition for places in Leinster at the moment," he says. "Fifty-one players used this season so far and if you look at the second-rows the competition there is massive.
"And James Ryan is back in the mix now again after recovering from injury and then Scott Fardy is joining us next season. So I'm looking forward to training with him and learning from him, like I do with all the locks.
"I am very competitive but if someone else gets the nod ahead of me, fair and square then I'll shake his hand and wish him luck.
"But then I'll look to see why he won that duel and look to see where I can go better next week to see if I can't force the issue in training.
"I really enjoy that learning element to the group we currently have - all driving each other but willing to work together too to achieve that common goal."
It must be working because Leo Cullen awarded the 6ft 4in 26-year-old a new contract.
"It was massive for me," says Kearney. "I had the injury issues last season so that hampered me so yeah, to get that backing from the coaches is great.
"I'm really looking forward to the next few years and the challenges that will come my and our way because we are in a really good place and hope to be challenging for more knockout rugby and hopefully titles."
It goes without saying that with a home PRO12 semi-final already in the bag this season that this must be the aim this season. Particularly after coming up short against Connacht last season. A chance for redemption?
"For a start it's a new group, a new team, new coache," says Kearney. "But there are still enough of us around that played that day who carry a massive chip so we will be doing everything we can against Glasgow and against Ulster to make sure we arrive at those semi-finals ready to perform."
The visit of 2015 PRO12 champions Glasgow Warriors will focus the minds first tonight, and then there is the small matter of the retiring Mike Ross involved in his last regular-season RDS game.
"Rossy will be hugely missed," says Kearney. "As a tighthead lock, I should know as he has saved me on a few occasions and dug me out of a few situations in matches and at scrum time.
"He also is a massive influence off the pitch - the work that he does with the younger players and with younger props like Andrew Porter is hard to quantify.
"We'll definitely miss him but I'm sure the RDS crowd will give him a huge ovation. It's richly deserved.
"It will be the same for Zane Kirchner, who is also leaving at the end of the season. It'll be a special night for them and we want to ensure they get that positive send-off. But that can't distract us either.
"Glasgow are a good side and with two very good coaches in Gregor Townsend and Dan McFarland who are both leaving soon to take over international positions. That's the calibre of rugby brain that you're dealing with."
Ross is also a fellow Clontarf man; another Clontarf man in the news this week was Tadhg Furlong, a man Kearney knows very well.
"I played with Tadhg with Ireland U-21s and with Clontarf when he joined and everyone could see what a special talent he was," he says.
"Everyone was tipping him for great things but you have to go and earn those things and he has done that. They all have. It's a great honour for all five Leinster lads to be named on the Lions - I couldn't be happier for Tadhg and his family. Great people and very proud of their son."
So time for Leinster to put the white-hot heat of Lyon behind them. Time to narrow the focus. To get back on the bike. And to start working towards the Aviva on May 27.