Thursday 22 August 2019

'The body is still good, the mind is good, so why stop now?' - Rob Kearney on new deal, Sean O'Brien and winning medals

Rob Kearney and Garry Ringrose of Leinster after winning the Pro14
Rob Kearney and Garry Ringrose of Leinster after winning the Pro14
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Make no mistake about it, the fire inside Rob Kearney still burns as strong as ever. If it didn't, Ireland's most successful player would happily sail off into the sunset when his current contract ends following the World Cup.

A stint in France or England didn't appeal, because while winning is one thing, getting to do so alongside your mates at your boyhood club is why, at 33 years of age, Kearney was pushing for a two-year extension rather than the nine-month deal he's about to sign.

Bringing the curtain down on an illustrious career in Japan later this year seemed as though it was as good a stage to exit from as any, yet Kearney has other ideas.

He has battled with his body over the years, but is now in a good place in that he has learned how to listen to it properly.

Regardless of how Ireland fare at the World Cup, Kearney will return to Leinster for at least one more season and he is already thinking about playing on beyond that.

Smart

Rob Kearney with Ballina U-12s’ Cormac Kelly Blair, Adam Hennick, Daniel Cowan and Iarla Quinn at a National Dairy Council training day to launch the “Everything starts with milk” campaign
Rob Kearney with Ballina U-12s’ Cormac Kelly Blair, Adam Hennick, Daniel Cowan and Iarla Quinn at a National Dairy Council training day to launch the “Everything starts with milk” campaign

That is another reason why moving abroad at this stage of his career didn't suit. Yes, the money would have been better than what is on the table at home, but Kearney is smart enough to know that he would be flogged outside of Ireland.

"You're taking a risk," he tells the Irish Independent.

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"Especially over the last three or four years, my body has become conditioned. I don't play too many games back-to-back.

"So all of a sudden if you do go somewhere else and then you are asking your body to train-play, train-play, you are taking a risk with it.

"You look at some of the games that the Premiership guys play and the French - they play a lot. We do get very well looked after here."

Should he regain full fitness, Seán O'Brien will learn how much of a slog life in the Premiership is and while London Irish may use him wisely, the player management programme will be nothing like it is here.

Read more here:

O'Brien's farewell brought it all back home for Kearney, and it reassured him that staying in Ireland was the right thing for him.

"It is very tough," the full-back admits. "It's tough for us to watch it too in how the whole thing is unfolding. But very few people get the fairy tale ending in sport. Very few.

"Hopefully Seán gets through this next tricky period of his career and goes to London Irish and please God he gets his fairy tale ending there.

"It's not just in Ireland but in sport right across the world, that as soon as you get into your 30s, the question is 'when are you finishing up?' or 'how long more do you have in you?'

"I think we are starting to see more people in sport right around the world, mid to late 30s, you look at Tom Brady in his early 40s, pushing the boat out in terms of why should someone stop when they hit their mid to late 30s?

"I just played in two finals. I feel as if I am still playing pretty well. The coaches obviously feel that too.

"I fully love what I am doing. I am living a dream since I was a kid of five years of age. Why stop? The body is still good, the mind is still good. I'm still loving what I'm doing, I'm getting picked.

"I don't see any reason why I should stop. Some people say that it is great to finish on your own terms, to go out on a high, but I think sometimes there is an element of trying to protect your own legacy in that too. I would prefer to play for another couple of years for the sake of a legacy."

Kearney's legacy as one of the finest players this country has produced has long been cemented. Despite having his fair share of detractors, he has nothing left to prove.

The realisation that his playing days are numbered is very real, but as long as he is fit enough to be able to compete for silverware, Kearney won't be hanging up his boots just yet.

"It matters a lot because the only thing that drives me is winning medals with my team-mates," he insists.

"The brilliant thing about medals is once you get it, no one can ever take it off you.

"Opinions come and go, people will always have something to say about you whether it is now or in 30 years - what you were like as a player. But you always have your medals.

"Medals are single-handedly what gets me out of bed every morning. Even more so now because I know how hard they are to get.

"But the craic we had yesterday (Sunday) as a squad with the (PRO14) trophy after winning the day before - it was one of the best days of my life.

"Every time you have one, you don't want to be anywhere else in the world. You have worked so hard for a whole year, you've come through thick and thin and we have lifted another trophy together.

"A group of 57 players contributed to that and you just feel very lucky to be part of it."

Irish Independent

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