Tuesday 12 December 2017

Mind games: How Rob Kearney uses meditation to get in the zone

Rob Kearney
Rob Kearney

Kearney hopes benefits of his meditation sessions can aid Ireland's drive for success. By Nick Purewal

When Ireland complete their last-minute preparations before opening their World Cup bid against Canada in Cardiff, Siobhan Kearney will light a candle.

Ireland full-back Rob Kearney will clear his mind, focus on the biggest stage of all - and leave the rituals to his mum.

The Lions star draws strength from his mother's support, but is just too steely-eyed to let superstition creep into his own routine. No lucky pants for the 29-year-old means no fretting about remembering what to pack - and no match-day panic.

"I look at guys with superstitions, and some guys say 'I only wear these jocks for every game'," Kearney says.

"But I've seen guys leave those lucky jocks back in Dublin, then worry about what to do next. Being forced into a corner or a situation like that, it's not something I really want.

"Thankfully I'm not too superstitious and I don't intend on being so any time soon.

"The support of my family is different obviously, their backing is huge. To know that they are thinking about you, and supporting you, that always gives you a lift.

"Family plays a huge role in you fulfilling your potential. The happier you are, the more comfortable you are: the more you can do your thing when it comes to game-time."

Ireland's trusted last line of defence is also an astute attacking tactician and a master of the aerial assault so pivotal in head coach Joe Schmidt's preferred game-plan.

The Leinster stalwart has an MBA in the bag and a part share in The Bridge, a thriving Ballsbridge bar, a joint venture with brother Dave, Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien.

Relentless Kiwi coach Schmidt is famed for his intense training camps, often stopping players in the Carton House corridors for a pop-quiz.

The ex-Clermont and Leinster coach has no off switch when it comes to rugby, and demands the same of his charges. Schmidt does appreciate the art of balance however, and has introduced meditation sessions into the mayhem of Test match preparation.

Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic is among the many sporting devotees of 'mindfulness', and Kearney - one part sceptic and two parts cynic - admits he is a convert too.

Times were when rugby players would have volunteered themselves for committal on feeling the need for a lie-down in a darkened room.

But in a world where Leicester hardman Richard Cockerill can relish Bikram yoga, all bets are off.

"It's 15 to 20 minutes twice a week, it gives guys a chance to chill out, be reflective of what's gone on that day, the previous few days, and how you're going to attack the rest of the week," says Kearney.

"Some guys enjoy it, some guys don't, but again if it helps you improve yourself by even half a per cent you're adding value to the team and that's the ultimate goal.

"There's a little bit of music, not pop or hip-hop or anything, but it's guys lying down and having a few moments to themselves.

"There's not a huge amount to it, it's very easy to do and it's very easy to practise, but it has shown a few little results for us."

Test rugby stars are natural high-achievers, driven by the pursuit of continual improvement: Kearney concedes that hitting pause on the treadmill takes some getting used to.

"We speak to ourselves more than we do to anyone else in the world, your thoughts that you have with yourself, there's something like 20,000 or 50,000 thoughts a day," he says.

"So it is difficult, they try to get you to switch off and focus on your breathing and all those sorts of things.

"It can be tough not to think about the game at the weekend, training that day, or the conversation you had with your mate the night before.

"I can't pinpoint one different thing I think about during that time, it's generally just repeating the same thoughts you have throughout the day. You're just a little bit more conscious about it.

"You can organise your thoughts, just be a little bit reflective, and strategise how you're going to go about what's ahead."

By the time that Saturday's Pool D opener against Canada comes around, Kearney believes Ireland will be ready to justify their two years of success under Schmidt's guidance.

"Joe's style, his approach and the results we've had so far with him, it's all very reassuring," he says. "We've got a group of players, a culture, a staff and a set of players where everyone and everything is driven towards being the best for each other.

"We recognise this, we've fully committed to it and hopefully that will pay off.

"All told though, we still know all that will count is what happens on the pitch."

Irish Independent

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