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Rugby

12th Mar 2015

Dave Kearney: ‘You’re only one knock away from being a starter’

Kearney speaks about fighting for his place after an injury filled 12 months

Neil Treacy

It’s hard being an Irish winger. Dave Kearney knows that.

He was handed an international debut at the back end of 2013 in Joe Schmidt’s first game in charge against Samoa, after injury cast its spell on 2013’s starlet, Simon Zebo.

Two tries that day and an impressive showing against New Zealand was enough to convince Schmidt of his worth, and he was one of just three players to play all 400 minutes of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign in 2014.

At the time it was Zebo who was frozen out, but when a cruciate ligament tear put Kearney on the sidelines for six months, the Corkman came in from the cold, and Kearney had to rejoin the queue.

The problem is, it’s a big queue. As well as trying to get by Zebo and Tommy Bowe, he’s got the likes of Luke Fitzgerald, Keith Earls, Felix Jones, Fergus McFadden and Craig Gilroy to fight off also.

On the upside, he’s still inside the tent. He’s been in the squads, training at Carton House, and with the way he’s been struck by injury in the past 12 months, he knows just how quick things can change.

“That’s what happened with myself and Trimby last year. I got the opportunity in the November series, took that and played well. Joe will reward form and consistency, and that’s what he did last year. Other guys were coming back then, and they found it difficult to get into the mix, and that’s how it’s been this year. Tommy and Zebs have come in and they’re playing really well, and they’re going to be tough to knock off unless, realistically, they get injured.

Dave Kearney 12/3/2015

“I’m still going in with the thoughts of being in the squad next week. Anything can happen this weekend, you’re only one knock away from being a starter. Every time you’re coming into camp and any time you’re coming into training, you’re still approaching it like there’s a chance you’ll be involved. You never close any thoughts out or think otherwise.”

Looking at the games from the stands or the couch is the toughest part though. There’s a certain intensity in being at Carton House during a game week, and when the weekend comes and the match is happening before your eyes on the television, watching it can be a task.

“It’s tough, watching the games and not being involved in them. You’re in the setup every week, and you’re training Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and then you’re not getting on the bus when the team leaves.

That’s the toughest part, you want to be there so bad, but lads have come in and taken their opportunity and that’s the way it is. Someone gets a knock, guys come in and if they keep performing well it becomes tougher to take their spot away.”

Rob and Dave Kearney celebrate 15/3/2014

He isn’t feeling sorry for himself though. He’s well versed with Joe Schmidt’s gameplan, and it’s something the coach has been perfecting since he arrived at Leinster.

“One of our strengths so far in the competition has been our high ball work, and how good our backs have been in the air. But if any team is going to test us in that area it’s going to be Wales. In their back three they’ve got some big guys who are good in the air,” he says.

“We’re doing a lot of work on it, not even just in the past year. Three or four years ago when Joe first came over (to Leinster) we worked a lot on that, and even the first training session he took with Leinster we did high ball work, and I think it’s why Leinster were and still are one of the best sides in the air.

“Likewise with Ireland now, we have guys in the back three and right across the backline who are really good in the air,” he adds.

The aerial battle is nothing new to him. He came out the wrong side of a mid-air collision with Wasps’ Ashley Johnson in January, the shoulder injury he picked up ultimately costing him a chance to get a run out with the Wolfhounds.

The aerial tackle in itself has become a major talking point recently, with a lack of consistency in the policing of the rule by referees. For Kearney, it’s simple.

“I think for the player attacking the ball, if you’re going to chase your scrumhalf’s kick, I think the main thing is to get up in the air early. If you don’t jump off the ground, and the player you’re opposite does jump, well obviously you’re going to take his feet from under him.

“You’ve got to know when to pull out, or when to jump and try to catch it. You need to make an early decision whether you’re going to hold back and take man and ball, or if you have enough time to take it in the air. You have to be smart about it and not make any stupid tackles, because if a guy falls or lands on his neck then it could be pretty serious.”

In the Irish camp, nobody is mentioning the Grand Slam. It’s nothing superstitious, but they want to give the opposition the respect they deserve. This Welsh team have spoiled their fair share of coronations down the years, and they’ll be hoping to do so again, especially with their own championship ambitions.

“There’s obviously still another game to play, so it’s not a Grand Slam decider. There’s a lot of teams who are in with a shout, but they love doing it, and they’ve done it many times before. They’re definitely going to want to spoil the party and get a result.

“I think it’s going to be the toughest test we’ve had yet. Wales are a very physical team who like to front up, so I think we’re going to have to be on top of our game physically for that.”

He’ll either find himself wearing a starting jersey, a subs jacket or his street clothes on Saturday week, but after a year of setback after setback, it’s a reassurance to know he’s still in the conversation.

Irish Rugby International Dave Kearney will kick-off the St. Patrick’s Festival celebrations in the Guinness Storehouse on March 14th with pre-match analysis ahead of the screening of Ireland’s Six Nations game v Wales. To purchase tickets and for further details of The Guinness Storehouse St. Patrick’s Day Festival visit www.guinness-storehouse.com  

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