Tuesday 23 October 2018

'We've so many kids around that fellas don't care anymore' - Keith Earls has found the secret to success

Keith Earls is happy with his lot and looking forward to new year. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Keith Earls is happy with his lot and looking forward to new year. Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Keith Earls no longer sweats the small stuff. For a man who once looked at rugby as the be all and end all, he has come to learn that life goes on outside of the oval ball.

The Moyross native always, without a fail, shoots from the hip and for that we should be thankful.

Since Anthony Foley passed away last year, Earls has a been a beacon in terms of the leadership role he has played within the Munster squad and also the way in which he has continuously offered an honest and heartfelt insight into what goes on inside the four walls of the dressing-room.

Nowadays, a bad training session is left behind at the University of Limerick. After all, once he reaches home, he has two daughters who instantly put a smile on his face.

The same thing happens for Ian Keatley who is playing with a renewed sense of confidence and freedom after the birth of his first child.

Life-changing events that reflect the maturity of this Munster group and their performances on the pitch this season, despite the messy coaching situation, further highlights the good place that they currently find themselves in.

"Yeah, I'm enjoying rugby in general," Earls admits. "I suppose I used to think it was everything, rugby, but when you really think about it, it doesn't really mean that much to you. Why would you get worked up about it?

"Obviously you're passionate about it and you want to go out and achieve things and give your best every time but at the end of the day it's only a small thing in life.

"Even Keats at the moment as well. Since he's had a child he's been relaxed. He's like, 'What have I been worrying about all along?'

"The lads in the squad who've had kids now as well, I think that's why we're playing so well, we've so many kids around that fellas don't care anymore," he laughs. "I think that's it, we're all enjoying it and it's easier when you're enjoying it."

Last year, Earls bemoaned the fact that it took the passing of their head coach for some players to stand up and be counted but this season has been different.

The move to a single base in Limerick has helped further the bond amongst a group of players who genuinely believe that they are on the cusp of something special.

"Fellas are starting to get to know each other now," Earls explains. "A lot of the younger fellas are getting up to scratch on how we like to play and what it takes to be a professional, so we are all set on the one goal with what we want to achieve and I think we are all starting to believe in it now.

"We grew up as well. We were always kinda giddy in training, but now we expect a lot from each other, we expect certain standards, This is a standards club, we expect them to go through the roof."

The hamstring injury that Earls picked up in Ireland training at the start of last month might have come as an even bigger setback once upon a time but his new outlook on things allowed him to roll with the punches much easier than he might have in the past.

Last weekend he returned as an unused substitute in Leicester, and although it's a position that he hasn't found himself in too often, the competition for places in the back-three is as fierce as it has been for some time.

"I think it's the first time it's happened to me with Munster," Earls smiles.

"It was unusual. Johann (van Graan) apologised to me. I don't know why I didn't get on but I do know as well, like, the lads were doing well, the back-three was clicking and the two boys in the centre, it was just all working.

"Maybe he's sending me (a message). You know, I haven't played in a while. It might disrupt things or not but it's professional rugby, you take it on the chin and I'm just happy the team won."

Earls hasn't yet played since Van Graan took the helm at Munster but he is likely to end that unwanted run against Leinster on St Stephen's Day.

"It's weird how seamless it has been," the 30-year-old says of the coaching transition.

"He's just fitted in and it's kinda like he's been here a long time.

"I think Fla (Flannery) and Felix (Jones) as well, stepping up to the mark has been brilliant. They've been running the show the last couple of weeks and Johann has been coming in with his own little bits as well but I think he's trying to figure it out.

"We haven't even seen 10pc of what Johann can do. The games are just so important in the next few weeks, he's coming in and out with pieces of information and leaving Jerry and Felix take over."

Earls has already made one comeback against Leinster this season when Munster were beaten at the Aviva Stadium back in October. He is eager to go one better this time around.

"It's the closest thing you can get to a European game and sometimes even closer to an international, so that's going to be a massive challenge," he adds.

"I'll just focus on that and focus on myself and hopefully the weeks coming will lead to good things."

That said, even if the coming weeks don't go according to plan on the pitch, Earls will still return home every evening with a smile on his face, and happy with his lot.

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