Endearing Keith Earls story proves he will never forget his roots
Near the end of his autobiography, 'Born to Run', Bruce Springsteen tells a tale about driving back to his hometown of Freehold, New Jersey.
Springsteen had long since moved away from his neighbourhood but could never quit New Jersey. One night, he hopped in a car and headed to Randolph Street and the house he grew up in with his parents, sister, grandparents and a family dog they called 'Saddle'.
The singer is initially struck when he discovers an old, towering copper beach tree that he spent so many childhood years playing around has been chopped down. That is until he notices the sweeping arc of roots in the garden that signify that it will take more than a blade to erase the essence of that tree, nor the memories of those that played and laughed and lived under its' shade. Springsteen writes:
'Its history, it's magic, was too old and too strong... We remain.
"We remain in the air, the empty space, in the dusty roots and deep earth, in the echo and stories, the songs of the time and the place we have inhabited. My clan, my blood, my place, my people."
Keith Earls can definitely relate to 'The Boss' on that account.
Born and bred in Moyross, Earls wears his upbringing like a badge of honour. The area often gets a bad press but, as Earls would vouch for, it is home to many generous, giving and supportive folks. The Munster winger is a huge success story for the area but fate and luck - as well as buckets of hard work - played their part in getting him to where he is now.
The obsession with rugby comes from that hero-worship that so many sons have for their fathers.
Ger Earls was a Young Munster flanker of ferocious regard in the 1990s, and featured in Munster’s famous win over Australia in 1992. He played for Munster on a few other occasions but was harshly overlooked by Ireland on more than one occasion.
Ger Earls was a big player when the All-Ireland League was the only real show in town. Inter-pros were showcases for players with Test ambitions but were often played at exhibition speed. Most of the attention and snarling aggression went into club rugby.
"I used to do the kicking tee for Young Munster," Earls tells The Hard Yards.
"I used to run out to Aidan O'Halloran and Mick Lynch when they were playing in the A.I.L.
"I used to go to every training session with my father. He used to take me to all their away games. It's all I remember. I was constantly with him. The A.I.L was huge back then and he was probably a big enough name and was known as a bit of a hard man. I was just delighted and proud to be his son, and be around him."
Earls knew from early on whose boot-steps he wanted to follow. He showed a talent for rugby even before he attended secondary school, with Thomond RFC, and that was one of the reasons he headed for St Munchin's College.
He only lasted through first year at a school that has produced players such as Keith Wood, Conor Murray and Donnacha Ryan. For second year, he moved to St Nessan's College, which was much closer to home. He played flanker for their school team, but admits he was not the greatest in the position. He switched to centre and, after playing Junior Cup with St Nessan's, he was convinced to return to St Munchin's for fifth and sixth year.
In rugby terms, it was one of the smartest decisions he has ever made. He definitely was not going back for the academia. Earls wanted a Senior Cup and he wanted to play at Thomond Park.
He did so in 2006 and scored the decisive try as Munchin's best Presentation College (Cork) to claim the Munster Senior Cup. Within a year, he was making is Munster senior debut away to Ospreys at Liberty Stadium.
By 2008/09 Earls was a Munster regular [22 games and 10 tries] and had made his Ireland debut, at Thomond Park, against Canada. He played New Zealand at Croke Park a week later, for good measure, and was a member of the 2009 Grand Slam-winning squad without seeing competitive action.
It was that season, too, that saw Earls called up for the British & Irish Lions squad and, after almost 22 years, move out of Moyross.
For the past two seasons, Earls has taken his game to a new level. He has grown into himself as a player, a person and as a competitor. He knows now that he does not need to scream and shout to feel just as deeply and passionately about the game as others.
He was part of another Grand Slam triumph too but can definitely say he played a bigger part in the latest Irish success story. He helped spark a comeback in Paris, scored a fine try and prevented an Italian one in the next game and was at his very best in the decider against England.
Away from the pitch, Earls and his partner Edel have forged a fine life for themselves too. They have two daughters, Ella May and Laurie, and are doing all they can to give the girls every chance in life. Still, he has not forgotten his roots. He says:
"My parents don't live there any more; they're living in Meelick; but you have to pass Moyross to get out there. I'd often, when I'm heading out to them, take the left turn and head up to my old house.
"But it's half the place that it used to be, now. With the regeneration that came in a few years ago, they knocked a lot of houses. The people there were told that they were going to build lots more houses but that didn't happen.
"I'm on the other side of the city now. It's close to training and I've been out there with my wife for close to 10 years and we love it out there. The house we're in now, we built it two years ago and it's our house for life.
"I still do have lots of fond memories from growing up in Moyross and I do still enjoy meeting people out there when I'm driving through it, and some of the lads and the characters that I knew growing up. But we went separate ways."
And though he has moved on, don't think for a moment that Moyross has forgotten Earls and his family.
As the old proverb says, it takes a village to raise a child. Moyross can take a lot for the local lad that wears the red and wears the green with the same pride he once felt when he saw he father line out for the black and yellow.
The full Keith Earls interview on The Hard Yards runs from 49:00 below: