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Mick Kearney revitalised at Ulster after ‘falling out of love with game’

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Ulster's Mick Kearney. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Ulster's Mick Kearney. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Ulster's Mick Kearney. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

For Mick Kearney reality was snapping hard at his heels.

At 30 he had been let go by Zebre and without anything of substance staring back at him, in terms of alternatives in the pro game, his focus had already shifted to facing life outside rugby.

He kept himself in shape last summer, just in case, but the truth of it was that his decade-long career which had seen him play lock and flanker at Connacht, his native province Leinster and Zebre, as well as for Ireland U-20s, appeared to have run its course.

He set himself until the end of September. Nothing by then and he would quit. As it happened, anyway, he also felt that his appetite for the game was on the wane and, as such, began to busy himself plotting an entry point into the building trade through his family business in north Dublin.

Then two entirely unexpected conversations changed everything, well, for now at least.

Ulster were down in numbers when it came to fit second-rows and Dan McFarland, who Kearney had worked with at Connacht, offered him a deal in Belfast, albeit a short-term one.

Kearney then touched base with Ian Nagle, his much-travelled former team-mate at Leinster and Zebre, who had previously spent the 2018-’19 season on loan at Ulster.

Any doubts that Kearney may have harboured about taking the offer to head north for another stint in the game were entirely extinguished by Nagle.

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“When I came back from Italy I’d kind of fallen out of love with the game a small bit,” Kearney explains.

“I just wasn’t enjoying it but I still knew that if I could get my foot in the door in a good environment that I would really I enjoy it again.

“Dan then got on to me and they had a second-row shortage so one person’s misfortune is another person’s luck. Ian had an unbelievably positive experience here before he went to Zebre.

“He said it was the most positive experience of his whole career. For him to say that after being at Munster, Leinster, London Irish and Zebre was all I really I needed to hear. So it was a no-brainer.”

The inevitable line of questioning throws up when it all will end – the return to full training by Kieran Treadwell and Dave O’Connor looking significant – and if there is a possible chance that Ulster may even retain his services.

“In terms of being an opportunity after this, the answer is I don’t know. One thing I do know is that I don’t know,” jokes Kearney who appears re-energised and determined to make every moment count.

“I’d love to stay and have really enjoyed the experience so far,” adds Kearney.

He will want to be part of the action for tomorrow’s home clash with the Lions and add to his one actual start which was against former club Zebre.

“The Zebre lads definitely had a target on me,” he recalls with a smile of the trip back to Parma at the start of the month.

“I got a few messages in shaky English during that week saying they’d be coming my way.”

For now, Kearney is thriving in his new environment.

“Every game is a trial and a chance to impress. If you don’t go out and perform, then that’s all it’s going to be, a trial and nothing more,” concludes Kearney.


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