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Laszlo Geczo/INPHO Dave Kearney: 'It’s tougher for my parents, they are congratulating one but not the other'.
# mixed emotions
Don't bet against Rob Kearney adding to 95 Ireland caps, insists brother Dave
The younger of the brothers was included in Andy Farrell’s first get-together.

DAVE KEARNEY ADMITTED yesterday he had mixed emotions when Andy Farrell unveiled his first squad as Ireland head coach for last week’s so-called mid-season stocktake in Abbotstown.

Whereas the Louth native joined 18 of his Leinster team-mates for a 24-hour gathering at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre, his older brother Rob – a mainstay on the international scene throughout the past decade – was a notable absentee.

“Obviously it is tough for him and I know how it feels myself. It’s good for me too. It’s tougher for my parents, they are congratulating one but not the other,” Kearney acknowledged at a media briefing in UCD ahead of Leinster’s interprovincial clash with Connacht on Saturday.

“It’s never nice to get a phone call to say you’re not in the squad. I guess it’s initially disappointing. You can’t dwell on it. For him, he was playing against Ulster that week.”

That game against the northern province on 20 December was just the elder Kearney’s second start in blue following his return from Ireland’s World Cup campaign in Japan. He was restricted to final-quarter cameos in the back-to-back Champions Cup triumphs over Northampton Saints earlier this month, with Jordan Larmour the preferred choice in the 15 shirt on both occasions.

Given the significant age gap between the two — Larmour is 22, Kearney turns 34 in March — the St Andrew’s College prodigy is understandably seen by many as the long-term option at full-back.

However, Rob’s younger sibling believes he is more than capable of adding to the 95 caps he has accumulated to date.

“Rob is still playing well, he’s still fit and he still feels good. I don’t think that it is a closed book for him. Lots can happen, there is still a lot of rugby to be played this year and I think he can still easily get back in and push forward again. In his head too, he knows it’s not over for him yet.

“He’s not hanging up his international boots, he’s not retiring. He’s still in with a chance of getting back into the squad. Personally, I thought he was in good form at the World Cup. He hasn’t played that much since but when he has played for us, he has done well. He’s definitely still in the mix, in my opinion.”

Based on the relatively short window the squad had with the new international coaching team, Kearney is anticipating a more relaxed atmosphere under Farrell – in comparison to the intensity of the Joe Schmidt era. He also feels the Wigan man will deploy a more expansive style of play with Ireland, similar to what Kearney experiences with Leinster on a week-to-week basis.

“Some people don’t like that really intense environment where every mistake you make in training or in meetings or anything like that is scrutinised. Players react differently to that I guess. I think going forward [it’ll be] a more relaxed environment, less intense,” Kearney said.

“It’s probably similar to the way that we play here I guess. We play that expansive game, everyone likes to get their hands on the ball. I think for backs we will probably be able to express ourselves a bit more, get our hands on the ball a bit more.”

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andy-farrell Bryan Keane / INPHO New Ireland boss Andy Farrell at Thomond Park. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Meanwhile, Leinster assistant coach Robin McBryde revealed that Jonathan Sexton remains in good spirits as he is continues his rehabilitation from a knee injury sustained in the away success over Northampton on December 7.

The club captain is said to be making good progress behind the scenes and will be further assessed later in the week as he aims to regain fitness in time for Ireland’s Six Nations opener against Scotland in February.

“He’s in a positive mind frame. When you talk to him, he’s not down in the dumps dragging himself around here. He’s an energiser, he still contributes to meetings,” McBryde remarked.

“When you’ve got an injury, I think mentally you’ve got to be in a good place, first of all, and that is reflected in your demeanour. If that’s part of his progression, then he’s progressing well. He’s seeing a specialist this week and, from that review, we’ll see.”

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