Wednesday 24 July 2019

'You have to be patient, these are the days you play for'

The Big Interview: Dave Kearney

Dave Kearney being tackled by Toulouse’s Sofiane Guitoune and Romain Ntamack. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Dave Kearney being tackled by Toulouse’s Sofiane Guitoune and Romain Ntamack. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Marcus Ó Buachalla

Patience is a virtue but when does such a trait grow weary for even the most virtuous of men? Leinster and Ireland winger Dave Kearney reflects on a frustrating few years but the delight that comes with a first start in the Champions Cup in three years against Toulouse.

"It was definitely one of the most enjoyable games that I've been involved in. Full house, Toulouse playing as good as they were, so the task facing us was huge," he says.

"Everything about the build-up and the day itself was pretty special. You have to be patient because ultimately those are the days that you train for, that you play for.

"To be part of it and to be part of a special Leinster performance was worth all the effort and the sacrifice. Not everyone can get to be involved in a match-day 23. We all understand that, so when you get that chance, you have to grab it with both hands."

In Leo Cullen's first season in charge of Leinster, Kearney was his go-to wing man. Of the six games that season he started five with the number 11 on his back and was a replacement for the first game away to Toulon in Round 3.

However, injuries and misfortune have meant that in the three seasons since he has only pulled on the European jersey twice.

"The thing is that with the depth we have here in Leinster you never know when you will get that chance in the PRO14 or in Europe but when you get it you have to make sure that you have everything nailed on. There is no margin for error," he observes.

"The jersey is yours for that game and it's up to you to make it as hard as possible for the coaches to take it off you. When the opportunity arises, you have to be in a position to take it."

Like he was for Ross Byrne's pinpoint cross-field kick in the 50th minute against Toulouse when the out-half spotted space in behind Romain Ntamack.

Alive

"In a game you might have five openings when that kick might be on. For the out-half to see that space and to know that it's on when there are 20 other things going through his head means that you have to be alive to the chance.

"So when he does kick it and it's that one-in-five shot, you have to be ready to capitalise. For that kick I was waving my arms a fair bit all right and trying to get the message inside that it was on. After that it was over to Ross."

Those stats were two-from-five in the recent Dragons game in the PRO14.

"He put two great kicks in for me that day in Rodney Parade. It's not by accident though. We scout that. The analysts do a great job in looking ahead and seeing where opportunities might be and then it's over to us on match day to know where those openings are and when to exploit and when to keep the powder dry. Thankfully we have seen it come off a few times this season."

Indeed it has. His own three tries this season have all come as a direct result of Byrne's right peg but Johnny Sexton and Ciaran Frawley haven't been found wanting either.

But it is Byrne and his use of the tactic that has garnered most of the attention. And he's been doing it from day one.

On his European debut, in December 2016 against Northampton, Byrne came off the bench and put one on a plate for Rory O'Loughlin. Fast-forward to January 2019 and the script is the same.

"Ross' ability to see what's going on is one of his best qualities, I think. There is so much going on but he scans the field and he's able to read what's in front of him really well.

"That kick at the weekend was inch-perfect, literally on the line. It also keeps opposition defences guessing and on their toes."

For his try, despite Ntamack's best efforts, Kearney still managed NFL-style to keep his feet infield and to dot the ball down. It was no mean achievement with the Toulouse centre hanging out of him.

He wouldn't be averse to another similar moment on Sunday in the Ricoh Arena but he is also all too aware of the threats coming his way. There's a familiar feel to it.

"Wasps are actually very similar to Toulouse and how we face into the task is actually going to be very similar. Our defence needs to be rock solid and our kicking game can't be loose; has to be with a purpose.

They have the likes of (Elliot) Daly, (Willie) le Roux and (Josh) Bassett in their back-three; hugely dangerous open-field runners. "

The prize at the end of the weekend, in particular given they are playing on a Sunday with most other fixtures before them, is knowing their fate will be in their own hands.

"We don't shy away from it. We want the home quarter-final. The job is half-done in many ways and there is no point doing all the hard work last week against Toulouse only to not back that up again this week.

"A result one week doesn't guarantee anything. Round 1 in the RDS we put in a great performance against Wasps but a week later and we came unstuck in Toulouse. Each week has to be taken on its merits."

Deliver

While the 17-times capped Ireland winger is confident they can deliver the performance they need, he has seen enough of this Wasps side and indeed has been to the Ricoh Arena often enough to know that to go in not fully tuned in won't end well.

"Our last two trips there we drew and then we lost in that game in 2016. Sorry, we didn't lose, we got thumped. No other way of putting it.

"A team that can put 30, 40, 50 points on you in the blink of an eye you have to respect them. Every team in our pool this season are competitive in their own league and Wasps are no different. They had a massive win against Northampton a few weeks back and you could see what a home win means to them."

As will Kearney. The time for patience is over. His opportunity has come knocking.

Irish Independent

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