Thursday 26 April 2018

Kicking king eager to get his hands on first piece of silverware

Out-half puts Ireland ambitions to one side as he bids to end Munster's four-year trophy drought

Ian Keatley has set his sights on playing a part at the World Cup
Ian Keatley has set his sights on playing a part at the World Cup

Daragh Small

On September 3, 2011 Ian Keatley made his debut for Munster and kicked ten points from the tee in their 20-12 victory over Dragons at the then Musgrave Park.

Just over three years and nine months later, the 28-year old Dubliner will start from out-half against the Dragons at Irish Independent Park in his 100th appearance for the province.

A lot has changed since then. British and Irish Cup aside, it has been a fallow period for the province.

And from the squad that lined out in that game in Round 1 of the Pro12 in 2011, Doug Howlett, Peter Stringer, Marcus Horan, Mick O'Driscoll, Damien Varley and John Hayes have all moved on.

Keatley could be considered a veteran as he returns to take on the same side at the same venue a century of caps and 790 points later.

"It's a huge accomplishment really. I got my first cap for Munster against Dragons in Musgrave Park as it was back then, so to get my 100th against them in Irish Independent Park is pretty special," he says.

"I suppose to do get to 100 in such a short period of time, just four seasons, shows that I've been in nearly every week with Munster.

"First of all it shows the coaches had great faith and I think it's a huge honour to get 100 caps because Munster is a great club with a great tradition."

Although one of the stalwarts in a youthful squad, Keatley is still relatively young and has many more years of competitive rugby left ahead of him.

When he joined, Munster legend Ronan O'Gara was the mainstay at fly-half but Keatley worked hard and took his chance when he got it.

He took over after ROG retired and has since overseen the progression of JJ Hanrahan, who became a real threat to the former Leinster and Connacht man's No 10 shirt at the start of the season.

However, Keatley remained focused and nailed down his position, while his understudy has signed a deal to join English champions Northampton Saints next season.

"We get on really well because we go kicking and do a lot of training together," Keatley says.

"JJ actually asked me for advice on what he should do at the time and I just told him no matter what you decide to do just back yourself 100pc because that's what I had to do when I moved to Connacht.


"I have got my own personal ambitions. I want play at the top level and the one thing I said to myself - and I said this to JJ as well - 'whatever you decide, back it 100pc and don't have any regrets'. Just make a decision and go with it.

"Another thing I said to JJ was: 'You are young. If you do decide to go or stay you have got such a long career ahead of you so don't worry about what you do in that sense'."

As one prodigy goes out the door, another emerges from the shadows, and Tyler Bleyendaal is likely to be the major competition next season.

The young Kiwi suffered a serious injury setback prior to his switch from Super Rugby outfit Crusaders but is recovered now and will surely be keeping Keatley honest in the coming years.

Keatley, though, is fixated on finishing this season off well before thinking about what lies beyond it.

"When you look back on your career, although getting 100 caps with Munster is a massive achievement, I think every player wants to win stuff with their club and with their mates and their teams and for the supporters as well," he says.

"I want to win stuff and that is why I came to Munster. I wanted to be on a winning team.

"They won the Heineken Cup in 2006 and 2008 and just before I arrived they won the league, so I knew I was coming into a winning team.

"Since then we haven't won anything so that's what I want to do with Munster. I want to win trophies."

Potentially his first trophy for Munster could be just three games away after a Pro12 Grand Final in Kingspan Stadium, but there are other ambitions Keatley wants to fulfil before the year is out.

The World Cup will take centre stage this September and the former Suttonians, Corinthians and Young Munster clubman is determined to be a part of it.

"I got my first cap back in 2009 and I got two again this season under Joe Schmidt, so I would love to go to the World Cup and hopefully get a few more caps that way," he explains.

"We won the Six Nations this year but I only played one match and I would like to be getting more involved in that.

"One of my goals at the start of the year was to be more involved in the Irish team and Irish set-up and get more caps, so to get another cap in the Six Nations to add onto my three was an achievement for myself but I want to keep pushing on.

"I'm concentrating on my own game at the moment and I wasn't really worried about my battle with Paddy Jackson last weekend up in Belfast.

"Munster are in a good place going forward and if I'm going to be pushing forward for selection that's going to be judged on what we do with Munster.

"These next few weeks are going to be crucial for Munster and for myself if I'm going to be pushing on for World Cup selection."

Irish Independent

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