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'It was setback after setback' - Kearney back in Ireland mix after difficult times

The 30-year-old Leinster wing is set to feature against Italy this weekend.

YOU MIGHT REMEMBER that there was lots of chatter around the impression Dave Kearney was making in Ireland training leading into the 2015 World Cup.

The Leinster man was said to be tearing up trees as he made a surge for a place in Joe Schmidt’s starting team and the talk proved to be wise in the end as Kearney went on to start four of Ireland’s games in the UK, including the quarter-final defeat to Argentina.

IrelandÕs Dave Kearney Kearney was a starter for Ireland at the last World Cup. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The 2015 World Cup wasn’t the first time Kearney had been a first-choice Ireland wing under Joe Schmidt, having started all five fixtures in Ireland’s Six Nations success in 2014.

Having used him frequently during his time as Leinster too, it’s clear that Schmidt has long rated Kearney’s abilities but the Ireland head coach hasn’t had much opportunity to select the Louth man in more recent years.

In short, injuries have utterly blighted Kearney’s hopes of winning more caps. Shoulder, groin, ankle, toe, and various muscular problems – all have cost him minutes on the pitch for his province and, in turn, denied him international opportunities.

Kearney has played just once for Ireland since the 2016 Six Nations – scoring a try from the left wing in the narrow November 2017 victory over Fiji – but he is set to earn cap number 18 this weekend in a clash with Italy at the Aviva Stadium. Despite all of his injury tribulations since 2015, Kearney is back in the mix for Ireland’s World Cup squad.

“It is probably only really when you get back in here that you can reflect when you’re back fit and playing,” says 30-year-old Kearney.

“I felt for two-and-a-half years I didn’t even get time to reflect on it because I wasn’t playing. It was more just setback after setback.

“It’s great now and this block is for the whole squad in terms of training and these games coming up now is so important. You have to put your best foot forward to get the opportunity to go to the World Cup.”

Dave Kearney on his way to scoring a try despite Romain Ntamack Kearney scores for Leinster against Toulouse last season. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Kearney played 14 times for Leinster last season and though he missed out on selection for the two finals, he delivered some outstanding performances throughout the campaign, most importantly in his three Champions Cup starts against Toulouse, Wasps and Ulster in the quarter-final.

Schmidt’s interest was sufficiently piqued and Kearney was duly named in Ireland’s extended training squad for the upcoming World Cup.

“I thought I put myself in a good position last year with good performances,” says Kearney. “The key thing for me was just keeping fit. I got a good run of games, a couple of opportunities in big games which is what I wanted. 

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“I was disappointed not to play the latter end of the season, in the finals. Every opportunity was welcome because the squad is so competitive in pushing for a spot with this in the back of my head too. 

“I was hoping to push my way back in there to put myself in a good position for this squad which I did.”

There has long been a perception that Kearney is the kind of player that Schmidt likes out wide: hard-working, strong in the air, physically capable, efficient at recycling the ball, invariably nailed-on with his detail in the game plan and even strong at ruck time.

But Kearney points out that the game is “constantly changing tactically” and that back three players like himself need to constantly adapt.

Dave Kearney The Louth man could win cap number 18 this weekend. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The Leinster man is predominantly a left wing but can also play on the right-hand edge and is happy at fullback too, starting four games for his province in the 15 shirt last season to conveniently underline a degree of versatility to Schmidt.

If Kearney gets his opportunity this weekend, he understands he will need to be ready to shine.

With Ultan Dillane and Rory Scannell having been cut from the extended squad even before the warm-up games got underway, players like Kearney appreciate that this weekend could even be the last chance saloon.

“You can’t hold back with these games coming up and there has probably been a bit of chat about players minding themselves in these games but I don’t think that’s a realistic option.

“This is your chance to show you can do it and if you don’t give 100% you could fail. You’re putting yourself into that window as a realistic option to go and if you do get another chance, you need to do the same again.”

- Originally published at 14.00 

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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