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Kearney eyes involvement on Leinster's big days after injury frustration

The winger struggled with ankle, back and hamstring injuries last season.

Dave Kearney.
Dave Kearney.
Image: Ben Brady/INPHO

REFRESHED, REINVIGORATED AND most importantly, recovered, Dave Kearney is understandably excited about getting stuck into a new season with Leinster.

The 2021/22 campaign was ultimately one to forget for the veteran winger, Kearney only playing in a handful of games due to ankle, back and hamstring injuries, not making his first apperance of the season until February.

An injury-free summer and full pre-season was in itself a luxury for a player who has shown impressive longevity, despite some unfortunate luck with injuries. He’s already off the mark this season, crossing in the second half of Leinster’s opening weekend 33-29 win in Zebre. That was try number 53 for Kearney in Leinster colours, and made it 14 straight seasons he’s scored a try for the province. 

He’s hoping to add plenty more over the coming months, but for now, the main aim is to get minutes under his belt.

“I played about five games last year,” Kearney says, “not much at all.”

“You’ve started the season, you are coming into pre-season, you’re really fresh, you’ve no niggles that you might have been carrying from the season before that.

“I know a few years ago I played a lot, I was playing most weeks. I actually remember coming into pre-season and not feeling that great. We had three, four or five weeks off. It also will take a mental toll on you too. When you are playing every single week you are mentally focussed, sometimes you can be more mentally fatigued than physically.

“But yeah, this season, given the fact that I didn’t play last year you feel fresh, you feel ready to go again.”

dave-kearney The winger has scored 53 tries for Leinster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The stats beside his name are important to Kearney too. He’s now just 16 tries off Shane Horgan’s Leinster record of 69.

“As a back three player, a winger, you want to score tries. You have that strike rate so yeah… It always changes. It depends on the style of rugby you play, in particular the past, the way we play might not necessarily play into winger’s hands, where you get lots of ball and you get chances to score. 

“In the last four or five years in the way we do play, we like to spread the ball out wide. We do put the ball out to the edges so you do put yourself in the opportunity to score. I’ve probably racked up a few of those tries in the past four or five years. Hopefully over the next while I’ll keep rattling them up.”

Try-scoring wingers never go out of demand, and Kearney still holds ambitions of playing his way back into the picture with Ireland, with his last caps coming in the World Cup warm-up games back in August 2019.

Yeah of course. It’s probably not at the forefront of my mind at the moment considering I haven’t really been involved over the last few years. Maybe two years ago I felt like I could have been involved or I should have been, but I wasn’t. But yeah. Like, I mean, never say never.

“At the moment I’m focussing on playing well here. Obviously, we have a very competitive squad. The strength and depth we have, it’s like an Irish team really in terms of competition for places. Getting into this team for the bigger games, the European games is a goal of mine this season, and just to play regularly, I guess.”

Much has changed at Leinster over the course of Kearney’s career, with Cian Healy and Johnny Sexton the only members of the squad from his debut season still going strong. Of all the faces that have come and gone in the Leinster dressing room during that time, no departure will have felt as strange as that of older brother Rob, who swapped Leinster for Australia’s Western Force in 2020 before retiring the following year.

“He’s still watching all our games,” Kearney says.

“It’s not like I don’t have him for a sound board to chat about performances. Yeah, obviously it’s a change but it’s like when anyone leaves Leinster… Obviously he’s still involved in rugby and commentating on games so he still has an eye for the game and has a good knowledge of everything, so definitely still good for me in terms of giving me feedback on my game and stuff.”

And Kearney, who penned his current contract with Leinster in 2021, admits that Rob’s experience in Australia could also tempt him away from the province down the line.

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“Going down to Australia and playing in the summertime there? Yeah, definitely. There’s probably not many Irish players have gone down and played in Australia so I think the opportunities probably don’t come about that often, but of course it would entice any player here to go and experience something like that.

“A different environment, a different atmosphere when you have been in a club for 13, 14 years, it’s definitely nice to have a change of environment. I mean, he absolutely loved it.”

Any move away from Ireland would end any lingering hopes of playing his way back into the Ireland team, but at this stage of his career.

“That (playing for Ireland) wouldn’t be a reason for me wanting to stay,” he adds.

“If your body is still able to go, if you still have it in you to keep playing, there’s a lot of factors you have to weigh it up in making a decision like that.

“I guess we’ll see when the time comes.”

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Ciarán Kennedy

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