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Dublin: 0°C Thursday 6 May 2021

'I was in a bad place two years ago. To get back in the jersey was huge for me'

Dave Kearney may have missed out on a World Cup place, but the Leinster winger takes huge confidence from his ability to bounce back.

FROM THE OUTSET, many believed Dave Kearney was on the outside. Back in Joe Schmidt’s Ireland squad, but barring a series of back three injuries, a World Cup longshot.  

And so it proved, with Kearney among those to be left out of Schmidt’s chosen 31 for Japan at the final cut, but after a year-and-a-half in the wilderness, the 30-year-old could take huge confidence from coming so close. 

dave-kearney-dives-to-score-a-try Kearney scored against Italy back in August. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

In starting the opening pre-season game against Italy at the Aviva Stadium in August, Kearney bridged a 21-month gap between caps number 17 and 18, after injuries had utterly blighted his career since the 2015 World Cup.

Shoulder, groin, ankle, toe, and various muscular problems caused Kearney to miss large chunks of the last four seasons and cause deep frustration for the Leinster winger, whose 14 appearances for Leo Cullen’s side last term was his most since the 2015/16 campaign.

Setback after setback, Kearney has put those injury tribulations behind him now and, with a consistent run of form and fitness in the last 12 months, played a big part in Leinster’s run to both the Pro14 and Champions Cup finals.

Although he missed out on selection for both deciders, Kearney was outstanding on the Leinster wing in three Champions Cup starts against Toulouse, Wasps and Ulster in the quarter-final, with the win over Toulouse at the RDS last January a real turning point for the Louth native.

He scored an excellent try that day, finishing spectacularly in the corner after a trademark Ross Byrne cross-kick, and it was the launchpad Kearney required for the rest of the season, as he then earned his way back into Schmidt’s summer plans.

Just as he did in 2015, Kearney impressed the Ireland coaches in training at Carton House, giving himself the best shot at World Cup selection with a place on the wing for that first outing against the Italians in Dublin.

An early first-half try did his chances no harm that day but ultimately it was Andrew Conway on the other wing who saw much more of the ball and was allowed to impress and stand out in the race for a seat on the plane.

By way of comparison, Munster’s Conway — starting on the right — touched the ball 13 times that afternoon, making two clean breaks and beating three defenders, while Kearney — on the left — had seven touches, made two breaks and beat two defenders. A lot of it comes down to luck. 

“I felt pretty good during the games,” Kearney says. “I thought in my head I would get another start, maybe that Wales away game. Once I didn’t get that, I had a feeling that maybe I was going to miss out.

“But, at the same time, it was great to be back in the mix there. It was a year-and-a-half back to my last game. I enjoyed being back in and there were definitely positives to take away from it.

AM8I0509 The winger is a Bord Bia ambassador. Source: Marc O'Sullivan

“Two years ago, I was in a bad position, just kept getting injured. To work my way back into the mix was good for me and good for my confidence.”

Once the initial disappointment had subsided, Kearney was able to take stock and return to Leinster imbued with renewed levels of self-belief after working his way back to Test rugby after everything he had been through. 

“That was huge for me,” he continues. “At the start of the year, it is always my goal to get back into the Irish squad. Leinster gives you that platform to get in. It was great for my confidence from where I was up to two years previously.

“I was playing Leinster ‘A’ games in Donnybrook two years ago. Those days were tough. To finally get back in the mix and wear the jersey again was a positive to take and it does build up your confidence.”

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Having returned to UCD for the final stages of Leinster’s pre-season preparations, Kearney hit the ground running in the opening game of the Pro14 campaign as he scored a hat-trick in the bonus-point win over Benetton.

Although he didn’t feature in last week’s victory over Ospreys, Kearney is back in Cullen’s team for tomorrow night’s visit of Edinburgh to the RDS as Leinster bid to make it a perfect start to their title defence.

With the frustrations and hardship of those dark days now firmly in the rearview mirror, Kearney — although watching the World Cup with a touch of envy — is clearly excited and enthused about what is to come.

Competition in the Leinster back three is fierce, even more so when Rob Kearney and Jordan Larmour return from Japan, but just as he showed last year, Kearney is in a good position to earn his starting berth regardless of who else is in the building.

“That’s all it takes really, just a bit of luck,” he adds.

“Getting those opportunities, that’s what I found the toughest part of getting back. You need consistent game-time and you’re kind of getting a week here and there and you’re not getting selected. You need a few games on the trot to actually get back into it and you definitely need luck as well.

dave-kearney Kearney starts for Leinster tomorrow. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“I think we chatted about that the last time, I said that Toulouse game was probably the changing point for my season. I wasn’t meant to start that game, it could have been Rob that pulled out. I came in and that’s your opportunity. That’s when you start to get more opportunities on the back of that.

“But yeah, I’m enjoying my rugby now again and I’m enjoying being back. Enjoying the training, enjoying playing games.

“I suppose during that period where you’re injured, there’s pressure on you then when you’re up for contract and you hadn’t played much. You don’t really enjoy rugby then.

“At the moment I am, I’m in a good spot and I’m enjoying it. The body is feeling good so hopefully, I can push on from last season.”

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Andy Dunne and Murray Kinsella join Gavan Casey to preview Ireland-Samoa, and discuss the utter farce of the World Cup falling foul of Typhoon Hagibis.

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Ryan Bailey

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