Thursday 22 February 2018

Rob Kearney tells David Kelly how Dave's career has been shaped by the pair's close relationship

A brother shares childhood memories and grown-up dreams.

On the Sunday before Ireland opened their Six Nations campaign against Wales, Rob Kearney pulled his younger brother to one side after dinner in Carton House.

"I think you might have a chance of getting in the 22 next week," he told Dave. "He looked at me as if I had 10 heads!" Kearney smiles a fortnight later.

With Keith Earls tending to his sick newborn child, it seemed more and more likely that the younger Kearney would join his illustrious elder brother in the match-day squad. Wednesday's team meeting confirmed as much.

The day promised everything the Kearneys could have hoped for -- except the result. Dreams were fulfilled and the memories would last forever.

As proud parents Siobhan and David looked on, Rob deliberately sought a berth beside Dave for the anthems. It was all he could do not to choke up.

"I'd never be one for getting emotional on the big day," he confesses. "The more you can leave emotion out of high-pressure events the better. But I remember seeing mum and dad and I started to water up a fraction.

"I had to look away because I didn't want to get caught up in the moment and do a Jerry Flannery live on TV. I've fond memories of that. Not the rest of the day. It could have been wonderful or terrible and it was terrible in terms of us losing and him not getting on."

Sport dominated life in the Kearney house. The Kearney boys -- Richard, the eldest of the three by some eight years -- immersed themselves in rugby while at Clongowes, where all three lost in Senior Cup finals. Sister Sara is the odd one out. "She's interested but you wouldn't blame her for not getting into sport as seriously as the rest of us," Rob grins.

As Richard boarded, Rob didn't see that much of someone he idolised mostly -- summers apart -- from afar.

"I got my first real sense of competitive rugby by looking up to my older brother," says Kearney. "You idolise your older brother when he's playing at the top level, so I was exposed to that at a young age. It was a weird dynamic having an older brother who was so much older. We didn't see a huge amount of each other growing up."

With only three years separating Rob from Dave, that sibling dynamic naturally differed, as they predominantly shared school days together.

"It was the exact same dynamics with any family I suppose. As the older brother, I'd be ruling the roost, then the other older brother would come home and smack the life out of the two of us! We all got on really well, though.


"The two of us still sit down and do video analysis. When you're brothers, you can tell the harsh truth to each other. You'd always like to think you were a good older brother. You've a duty of protection as well, don't you?"

The footprints of one were eagerly followed by the other.

"The older brother always breaks the ice," Kearney adds. "The younger guy trusts him and ploughs into things because he's seen you do it and he knows you'll look after him. And if something goes wrong, you deal with it and then plough on again. That's where the older brother paves the way.

"There's no sense of one being better than the other. When we're away from the rugby, it would be hugely unfair of me to carry on like that. That would be arrogant. I mean, Richard has his job, Sara is in college. It's not just about us -- it's a family and everyone gets a slice of the Kearney cake."

To the world beyond the Kearney household, though, Rob has done it all. Lions tourist, Heineken Cup and Grand Slam winner. At 25, how is it still possible to delve into the reserves for even more motivation?

"I suppose just winning and achieving," he responds. "I know that's very broad and it doesn't give much away. I was lucky to experience a lot at an awful young age. And I think that makes you even hungrier for more.

"Your life starts with participation but then it's about winning. It's an awesome feeling to achieve and knowing that you're the best team in Europe with your club or country. Putting it simply, it's about winning silverware."

Or, perhaps, now that one has won so much, not wanting to lose?

"I heard a great phrase recently," he says. "'I hate losing more than I love winning.' Take Wales -- that (Irish) dressing-room was a sick place to be and the atmosphere was brutal. It's those situations that make you want to win and achieve more."

Despite his ability, doubts can still tug at even the best player's sleeve. "You always have doubts," he admits. "I play my best rugby when I'm confident.

"I always look at golf and the difference between number one and 100 is not ability, it's mental strength that separates them. They can overcome those doubts and the questions and move on from it.

"That makes you stronger because when you have doubts, you know you've had them before and dealt with them. The hope is that when you're full of confidence, even if you're having a bad patch, once you're doing the right things off the pitch, the cycle will break. Then you'll be back on top."

Kearney's current media campaign will allow one lucky team to benefit from his coaching expertise. His current coaching team at Ireland ticks all his boxes -- man-management, quality specialist coaching and people who at once inspire his ambition and humility.

But what would he have to offer?

"When I look back on when I was growing up, you see things you'd do differently. I hate harping on about the All Blacks but their simple skills are all done incredibly well," he says. "That's what separates teams at the top level.

"So you're not going to do anything hi-tech with kids. They probably expect professional rugby to be this entirely different game, but if you can pass well off both sides, kick with both feet, just do the simple things...

"I was lucky. My old man would be cutting the grass and he'd never let me kick with the right foot. Then in school, I'd always kick with the left foot! But if you instil it an early age, it makes it much easier as you get older."

Not that easy, though. For there may come a time when his younger brother, although now nominally a specialist wing, may shunt him from both Leinster and Ireland starting line-ups.

"I'd be the first to shake his hand, the same with anybody else," he says seriously. "He is my brother, we live together and we're very close. I wish him all success, I want him to win medals.

"But not one per cent of me wants it to come at my expense. There's no way I'm ever going to be giving my place up easily, even if it is for my brother."

But the sibling bond will always remain unbreakable.

Irish Independent

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