Monday 26 August 2019

'I was working too hard, I had to let it go a bit' - Ian Keatley

Life experience has broadened out-half’s vision

Ian Keatley. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ian Keatley. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ian Keatley, pictured at Carton House yesterday, gave an assured performance as he played the percentages against Fiji last weekend. The out-half is delighted he has found his feet again at Munster after flirting with the idea of leaving the province. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

If pennies fall from heaven what's the point in spending them on regrets?

Ian Keatley checked out of Carton House last spring and, it seemed, as if he was quitting on his international career too.

Except he didn't look back. Not even once. He had too much anticipation in his life to waste on remorse.

He and girlfriend Lisa were expecting a baby in a few months and he had decided, after much thought, to commit to a career in Munster red rather than upon foreign fields.

Suddenly, as if like a feather in the wind, he felt free and easy, liberated from life's burdens.

All the white noise - the boos from some Munster supporters, the nagging devils in his own head - were abruptly silenced. What a beautiful noise. So much had changed.

Ian Keatley kicks a penalty during the Guinness Series International match between Ireland and Fiji at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Ian Keatley kicks a penalty during the Guinness Series International match between Ireland and Fiji at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

"Everything," confirms the proud dad of three-month-old Beth. "Family now. Everything. I'm seeing life a lot differently. Things have happened me like with rugby and outside of rugby.

"It's hard to say and it's easier said than done. You can't just say 'go out there and enjoy yourself.'

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"I suppose that is just life experience. I think I've become a better person for it. I think you have to go through some things to come out the other end just to realise really."

And so, when he emerged from the bench with the intention of steering an uncertain Irish side home in the final quarter against Fiji, he did so unweighed by personal burden or a sense of something to prove. The two kicks that secured the win looked difficult to others but easy, in a sense, to him; after all, the ball remained stationary on the tee and his mind was equally resolute.

"I'm not thinking either 'Jeez, life is great, here I am taking a kick.' Not like that at all. You just stick to your routine. Thankfully, the kicks went over.

"Sometimes I was almost working too hard, driving myself nuts and training for hours trying to fix something. I almost had to let it go a little bit.

"Especially with my place-kicking, I went through a bad time with that two or three years ago. People were asking me 'Do you not practise?'

"It's just getting off the field and relaxing when I was away from the game. Trying to separate rugby from my personal life.

"And then obviously what happened with Anthony Foley puts things in perspective. And having a family makes you have different views and perspective on life."

Six caps in eight years reflects both his pecking order in the out-half stakes in this country; offered the chance to ply his trade elsewhere last spring, the offer must have been sorely tempting.

A year or so earlier, perhaps, he may have impetuously snatched at the offer, particularly as the man who had placed so much faith in him at Munster, was being as much pilloried as he was.

But now Foley was no longer around; somehow, it seemed natural that Keatley's desire to chase glory so feverishly had been abandoned. He needed to find some ease.

"I talked to clubs in England too. The game is changing a little bit, you can see it with Simon Zebo.

"I did think about it. But I did talk to my girlfriend and we talked about lots of things. But don't get me wrong, I love staying in Munster and that is a better fit for me now. I'm really happy things have worked out."

When the outside noises were at their busiest, he himself was often tongue-tied. There was a time when he fluttered in and out of Ireland camp and didn't know enough of the calls to make the difference he wanted.

"Because there are so many calls, I didn't have them on the tip of my tongue. But as a 10, you need to have them at the tip of your tongue.

"I found when I was looking at space, I didn't have the moves rolling off my tongue. I know the calls pretty well now because I have been in a number of camps and I feel when I step in I am comfortable making those calls.

"I do think that now I feel more comfortable running the show."

No longer tongue-tied, he can also express himself without pressure. He might have wanted to have a run-on 20 minutes against Fiji, shimmy and swerve through countless gaps but he was asked a different question. His response was delivered with acquiescent assurance.

"It's not frustrating at all. I just came on and we won the game. It would have been more frustrating if I was trying to create or put my hand up and something went wrong and you lose the game.

"So the main thing is when you are a sub is that you come on and you fit in. That's your first job. Then if you're trying something, make a break and it comes off that's great. That's what I did at the weekend.

"Myself and Luke McGrath talked about it when we watched from the sideline that if we come on we will play the percentages, keep the Fijians back and make sure we don't give them good opportunities to counter attack."

Such simplicity of thought defines him now. At 30, he has too much behind him to worry about what lies ahead.

Munster's erstwhile assistant coach, Jacques Nienaber, reminded him of the old football adage. It's supposed to be fun, not funny.

Which is why, when he drove through those Carton House gates last spring, he resisted the temptation to cast he eye to the rear-view mirror.

He needed to enjoy rugby again. No accident that, when he did so, he finds himself wearing the green once more.

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