Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

'It's all I think about every day': Keith Earls desperate to claim a European medal to call his own

The Munster wing doesn’t count his 2008 Heineken Cup medal as a true winners’ medal as he was an unused replacement in Cardiff.

A MEDAL LIES gathering dust somewhere in Limerick. Ger Earls knows the location, but his son Keith doesn’t believe in its worth.

The metal honour was handed to each of the victorious 2008 Munster team who took the Heineken Cup to Limerick for a second time after a pulsating final victory over Toulouse in the Millennium Stadium.

Just as venues change their names over the years, attitudes alter too.

Earls was a major part of Ireland’s Grand Slam and All Black-defeating success. To a man, every last member of those squads has warm words of praise for the players who didn’t make it to the field for big occasions. For they push the tempo and standards that prepared the front-liners to beat and be the best.

Yet, when he mentally rummages around the drawers trying to place the decade-old trinket, Earls doesn’t consider his role as an unused number 22 a contribution to justify pride in the medal.

20 then, 31 now; he is the only player in the current squad to have been a part of a European title win for Munster. He would dearly love one he can call his own.

“It’s all I think about every day,” he says.

For all he has achieved with Ireland, there is a hurtful absence in Thomond Park as a European title feels just as elusive, yet agonisingly within reach, as it did in the early years of the century.

“I’ve ticked a few boxes the last couple of years with Ireland, and more recently two weeks ago with (beating) New Zealand and we’ll concentrate on every game there is, but Europe is the ultimate here as well. So we’ll work towards that.”

When Earls says he thinks about something every day, you can take it as more than a throwaway line. He has spoken at length about the work he puts in to solidify his mental strength. This daily return to thoughts of trophies could be an element of Earls’ positive-thinking goal-setting, but it also aptly reflects the Munster obsession with the Heineken Champions Cup.

“Well, ever since I saw the ’06 team winning, Europe was on my mind,” says the wing.

“And we’re a club with great tradition in Europe and it’s been a long time. Leinster have been leading the way and, speaking to the lads when we’re in Irish camp, some of the stories they have and the bond they have from winning stuff, that’s something we’re looking for.”

Keith Earls scores a try despite David Cherry Earls breaks in for one of his three tries against Edinburgh. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

There are born winners smattered all through Munster’s squad, and many have recent international medals to show for their work at Test level.

Tadhg Beirne and Joey Carbery are recent additions who have achieved club success, but medals won in service of Munster are thin on the ground. Earls, Conor Murray and Mike Sherry are the only still-active players left from the 2011 Magners League win.

With Murray and Chris Farrell returning from injury before Earls scorched his way to a hat-trick against Edinburgh, the southern province look to be bringing all their component parts together in time for Sunday’s home meeting with French champions Castres [1pm, BT Sports]. There is a growing sense of long-term stability too with yesterday’s announcement of 12 new contracts for players in and around the first-team squad.

“It’s great. A lot of young lads (signing contracts) as well. The Scannells and Arno (Botha) who’s come in and been great for us.

The start of the season I think there was 26 lads looking for a contract, which was huge and probably gave Johann an awful pain in his head that he had a massive amount to re-sign again.

“The commitment is brilliant, it just shows that we are building a squad to move on to great things hopefully.”

Earls was among the group with a decision to make on his future this season. He noted at the time that it was an easy decision for him to stay, and yesterday added: “Conor signing up as well, it’s brilliant that he’s the best player in the world and he wants to play his rugby here and win trophies here which is a massive boost for us.”

The Munster Squad celebrate in the changing room with the Heineken Cup Trophy Keith Earls, just in front of Jerry Flannery, celebrating in the dressing room in 2008. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

This group is sick of semi-finals. They are hungry to tie red bows on a trophy again, intent on clasping hands on a medal they can call their own.

“I think I’m the only one still from ’08 but I wouldn’t consider it as a winners’ medal,”says Earls with a grave expression.

“I had no interest in keeping it, my old man has it somewhere. I never really got on the pitch but it was great to be involved.

“But in my eyes, I’ve no medal.”

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