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'You feel left out of things' - Dave Kearney determined to make up for lost time in Six Nations

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Fresh start: Dave Kearney admits it took time to win over Stuart Lancaster at Leinster. Photo: INPHO

Fresh start: Dave Kearney admits it took time to win over Stuart Lancaster at Leinster. Photo: INPHO

Fresh start: Dave Kearney admits it took time to win over Stuart Lancaster at Leinster. Photo: INPHO

Phoned in sick, lately?

Depending on who you listen to, four of every five who do aren't really sick at all; instead nursing either a hangover or a pressing need to finish a Netflix mini-series.

Pro sports folk don't get to phone in sick, ever. If anything, they must work even harder than their healthier colleagues.

"I hate talking about that time," says Dave Kearney, but now that there have been good times since and hopefully better times to come, it doesn't seem so bad.

Kearney missed the last three Six Nations campaigns either because of injury or because after recovering from injury he almost immediately suffered another.

In civilian life, that would add up to a lot of box sets; in his life, it added up to a lot more work than he would have ever wanted. Little of it fulfilling.

"It's hard to explain but during those two or so years, you're just not enjoying the prospect of going to work," he says.

"You don't feel part of the squad. You're not enjoying the rehab. You're not looking forward to the day.

"It's frustrating. You're with them but you're not part of the match or the huddles. You feel left out of things. They're playing well and winning medals and trophies. That's tough as well.

"But you have to keep faith. My folks always said things would turn around. I couldn't see it happening.

"I would literally play one game and then get another injury. Some of it was just pure luck, not my body breaking down, just weird shoulder injuries. Anything that could happen to me, happened."

And so life went on without him even though he was an intimate witness to it.

Leinster resumed accumulating tin and Joe Schmidt's Ireland continued to break records and vault higher ground.

When he finally felt fit enough to return it seemed as if the sport might have passed him by; Stuart Lancaster's arrival at Leinster launched a chaotic style of play to which a lazy interpreter might have felt Kearney may not have been suited.

After all, his most consistently productive period in green, under Schmidt, coincided with the Kiwi's 2014 championship triumph, when Ireland were ascending towards the summit of the sport and Kearney was soaring to the skies as an ever-willing chaser of contestable kicks.

Only three players - his now excluded brother, Rob, and Jamie Heaslip - played all 300 minutes of that campaign.

There may have been more to his game than met the eye but the wildly successful merits of Ireland's game-plan restricted them from view.

While the public clamoured for the silk of a Simon Zebo or Craig Gilroy, the steel provided by Kearney on one wing and Andrew Trimble on another was sufficient unto so many successful days.

Veered

Watching from afar, the newly-arrived Lancaster, whose philosophy veered from that of the national coach, might have wondered if Kearney suited his elaborate choreography.

Kearney wondered too, especially when injury had removed from him a canvas that was suddenly being dappled with the enigmatic colour of Jordan Larmour, and others.

"It took a while to get my confidence back and to get the coaches' trust," admits Kearney, who announced his return to the big time - ironically enough - with a spectacularly acrobatic try against Toulouse this time last year.

"Leo knew what I could do but Stuart Lancaster was new and I'd only played two games before I'd been injured. He hadn't seen what I could do or what I told him I could do.

"It took time to win him over. That came down to playing games regularly and keeping fit."

The bird once holed like a pigeon wanted to fly.

"I knew I could always do it. Now I had to show him. It's all about being adaptable as a player.

"Under certain coaches, you may not touch the ball, others allow you to come in off the wing, or get involved out the back, and that's what we have been doing at Leinster in the last three years.

"It looks like it is going to be the same with this new Irish coaching team, bringing in new ways to develop your game."

Kearney didn't do enough to make the last World Cup, his bid to atone for a calamitous afternoon against Argentina at the previous edition.

"I don't want that to be the final chapter of my Irish career," he says, mentally already writing the next.

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Irish Independent