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Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
# Lockdown
'There's literally police patrolling the streets... Rugby is irrelevant at this point'
Irish players Ian Nagle and Mick Kearney were lucky to get out of Italy before the lockdown.

FOR THE PAST week and a half, Ian Nagle and Mick Kearney have been in self-isolation in the latter’s house in Dublin.

The pair of Irish second rows joined Italian club Zebre at the start of this season and had been enjoying their new life in Parma until the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak began to get very serious in recent weeks.

With the club recently on a week off, Nagle and Kearney were lucky to have left Italy just before the government announced the lockdown that is now in place across the entire country.

ian-nagle-during-a-downpour Oisin Keniry / INPHO Irish lock Ian Nagle is in his first season with Zebre. Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

Neither of the Irishmen have any symptoms whatsoever and none of the players back in Parma do either, but Nagle and Kearney decided that putting themselves into isolation for two weeks was the sensible thing to do upon arriving back into Ireland.

“Just to be sure we decided to keep ourselves isolated,” explains Nagle over the phone. “People probably wouldn’t want to meet us either, knowing we came back from northern Italy, which I understand. We made the decision ourselves.

“I came back through Dublin Airport and there was a help desk there for coronavirus. The advice they gave was actually that if you haven’t been in contact with anyone who has been diagnosed and you don’t have any symptoms, you should be fine.

“But we decided to do it anyway just to be sure. It’s almost as much from a perception point of view so we can say to people we have been out of Italy for two weeks and we are fine.”

Nagle explains that Zebre have taken a very proactive approach to the virus. Even before the lockdown, players had been using the gym in small groups and wiping down weightlifting bars with sanitiser after every set.

All team meetings had been taking place outdoors, with a projector rolled outside. The club’s break week was when everything changed in Italy and now Zebre have cancelled all training, with staff working from home.

Nagle explains that the club’s medical staff are sending out videos of rehab sessions for injured players, while the strength and conditioning coaches have been sharing “fairly inventive” clips of workouts that players can do at home.

“Mick has a kettlebell in his back garden so we’re getting creative with those sessions,” explains Nagle with regards to how the Irish pair are keeping fit.

mick-kearney-arrives Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Ex-Leinster lock Mick Kearney also joined Zebre last summer. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Sensibly, the pair of them haven’t left Kearney’s home at all, doing their best to stave off any boredom. But Nagle points out that keeping occupied is nothing compared to what is going on back in Parma.

“It’s fine for us, it’s no problem whatsoever,” says the 31-year-old. “We’re hearing from the guys in Italy, unfortunately some of the players’ family members or friends are now in hospital.

“Parma has gone into complete lockdown. There’s literally police patrolling the streets. You can only leave your house for a food run, one person at a time, or in emergencies. It’s pretty dramatic because the weekend before I left, everything was running normally. Cafes and bars were full, everyone was walking the streets like normal. But the message has hit home now and everyone’s in lockdown.”

“Rugby is the furthest thing from anyone’s mind really, so myself and Mick are just killing time and we know we’re in a very lucky position. Rugby is at the back of everyone’s mind really.”

The Irish locks spoke to head coach Michael Bradley, who is one of those in lockdown over in Italy, and he and the team doctor advised that there was no point in them even attempting to get back to Parma given the current situation.

When their self-imposed isolation period is over in a few days’ time, Nagle and Kearney will set about figuring out what happens next for them in terms of rugby, as irrelevant as it might be in the grand scheme of things.

They’ll get back into the gym and out running, possibly looking to play games for a club side.

With major restrictions in place in Italy until at least 3 April, they understand that it could be a long time before they get back to Parma, and that the remainder of Zebre’s season is potentially under threat.

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ian-nagle Giuseppe Fama / INPHO Nagle has helped the Zebre set-piece to become one of the best in the Pro14. Giuseppe Fama / INPHO / INPHO

Not finishing out the campaign would be a shame – though Nagle stresses again that it’s not important in light of what is currently happening in Italy –  given that himself and Kearney had been largely enjoying the season with Zebre.

Munster native Nagle joined the Italians after a “really enjoyable” loan spell at Ulster at the end of last season, having been with Leinster since 2016, where he struggled for consistent game time but learned huge amounts in a “phenomenal” environment.

Ulster had been given approval to sign a non-Irish-qualified lock, a slot Sam Carter now fills, and though there was an option for Nagle to stay on with the northern province, it didn’t make financial sense. Zebre boss Bradley had been in touch from midway through last season and Nagle liked the sound of the offer.

“Having been in Ulster and playing regularly enough, doing that in Italy was an attraction. To play abroad too, that was something I wanted to do in my career. Getting to learn a new language was an appeal and the way Brads had pitched it to me, around helping with the set-piece, helping the young players, that seemed like a good challenge as well and something I hadn’t really done in my career.”

Just two wins for Zebre this season so far haven’t done their efforts justice, in Nagle’s eyes, while he explains that it can be frustrating in Italy due to the occasional conflict between domestic league clubs and the two Pro14 teams regarding access to players.

With Nagle and Kearney onboard, Zebre’s set-piece has been among the best in the Pro14, which is pleasing for the Irishmen. 

ian-nagle-after-the-game Oisin Keniry / INPHO Nagle played against Ulster earlier this season. Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

Nagle is on a two-year deal with Zebre so hopes to see more progress and consistency next season, but right now rugby simply isn’t important.

“It’s a waiting game now to see what happens,” he explains.

“We don’t know if there will be more games this season, and that’s not from anything official we’ve been told. We’ve had the next few games postponed and I’m not sure if there are free weekends beyond that.

“This season is certainly on hold for the next while. But no one is talking about rugby in Italy because people are concerned about their families in hospital.”

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