Saturday 21 April 2018

Relaxed and confident Keatley is thriving again

'Keatley had a smile on his face around Limerick on Saturday' Photo: Sportsfile
'Keatley had a smile on his face around Limerick on Saturday' Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ian Keatley has endured enough tough nights at Thomond Park to appreciate the good ones and after steering Munster to a famous victory over Racing 92 the Dubliner cut a contented figure after the game.

The 30-year-old's form could be rewarded by an Ireland call-up this week and he is likely to have a role to play during the November internationals at some point, something that looked unlikely when he was assessing his contract options last season and considering a move away.

Right from the warm-up, Keatley had a smile on his face around Limerick on Saturday and the pressure that once looked firmly fixed on his shoulders appears to have lifted.

His performance wasn't perfect, but he has learnt not to dwell on things like a missed kick from right in front or a skewed touch-finder.

Perspective has helped and the arrival of his daughter, Beth, in recent weeks has helped him see the bigger picture.

"I am just enjoying myself," he said.

"We just had a baby girl there four weeks ago, it just puts a lot of things into perspective and even with Anthony (Foley) passing away last year... rugby is so important, don't get me wrong, but then sometimes you just have to take yourself away from it, and you kinda go, 'what is more important in life'.

"When a player makes mistakes, they don't need someone else telling them they did something wrong. They know it themselves. This is our job.

"If you (journalists) do a bad article or whatever, you know yourself you have done a bad article, you don't need other people telling you that."

Playing against a figure like Dan Carter was a thrill, he admits, but it was the less heralded of the two players who thrived.

The All Black is only back from injury and shipped a heavy knock in the opening minutes that affected his game. He was replaced after 51 minutes.

After that, Keatley kicked into gear, landing two touchline conversions and helping to earn a penalty that he should have kicked in between those.

His predecessor Ronan O'Gara described his performance as "a mixed bag", but perhaps most tellingly assessed the conundrum around the No 10 shirt as the key to Munster's season.

Keatley was in for the injured Tyler Bleyendaal and kept JJ Hanrahan on the bench for 80 minutes. On Friday, the highly rated Bill Johnston shot the lights out for the 'A' team against Nottingham in Cork.

"In the PRO14 they have a gameplan that will steamroller a lot of teams, but we saw when they got to Scarlets and Saracens last season, that the gameplan didn't work," Keatley said.

"That was my message to the players this week, that basically you have to stand up to them. Don't let these guys steamroller you, because they can do that.

"There is a bit of indecision about who is playing No 10 and when they decide that, that will help the team greatly."

That may be a decision for the new coach Johann van Graan, who was in attendance on Saturday.

"We gave him a little flavour of what it is like," Keatley said.

"He has talked about signing a three-year contract, but he has said that he was thinking well past the three years.

"He said that his whole family is moving over and that he is committed to Ireland, so I think that is a sign of a man that is going to commit fully to the club, which is great."

Irish Independent

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