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'I had almost resigned myself to the fact that I was looking at retirement'

Rob Kearney will continue his foray into TV work before heading to join the Western Force in Perth.

Kearney is part of Premiers Sports' team for the Autumn Nations Cup.
Kearney is part of Premiers Sports' team for the Autumn Nations Cup.
Image: Ramsey Cardy

IN THE CLOSING pages of his new autobiography, Rob Kearney underlines that he doesn’t see media work as the next chapter in his post-rugby working life.

“I don’t want to be a pundit, except maybe to dabble occasionally,” says the 34-year-old in No Hiding.

“Everybody at this juncture wants to go into the media. It feels like an enjoyable job and it keeps you involved in sport. We all have the impression that it is easy.

“You don’t have to go to an office, you go to games. I see the attraction, there is something very convenient about it.”

As it turned out, Kearney’s dabbling started very soon after his book was published, with an appearance on Virgin Media’s coverage of Ireland’s defeat to France followed by another with Channel 4 for last night’s clash with Wales. He has also signed up with Premier Sports as part of their team for the Autumn Nations Cup.

“I did say I would dabble in it,” said Kearney this week when asked about his foray into the media. With a second lockdown in place in Ireland at present, it was convenient for the former Ireland and Leinster fullback to dip his toe a little further.

“A big component of it is that we’re in the midst of the lockdown as well, so there’s not much else happening out there. If I’m going to be watching the game on my couch or chatting in the studio, there’s a much better place to do that.”

With Ireland’s games free-to-air on RTÉ and Channel 4, Kearney and co. at Premier Sports will instead be broadcasting the remainder of the Autumn Nations Cup games involving England, Scotland, France, Wales, Italy, Fiji, and Georgia over the next month.

Ryle Nugent will be the man prompting Kearney from the presenter’s chair, with former Munster man David Wallace alongside them today.

Kearney admits that he’s happy to be analysing games that don’t involve Ireland, as he came to appreciate the challenge of commenting on players who still remain his friends during the France clash two weekends ago.

“I’m looking forward to this aspect of it more, where I don’t have the same emotional attachment to some of my friends, so to speak,” said Kearney.

rob-kearney-celebrates-his-try-with-robbie-henshaw-and-conor-murray Kearney is only recently out of the Ireland squad. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I did find that a little bit challenging doing the Ireland-French game. In this instance, I can give a little more honest feedback because I’m not worried about damaging relationships with some players who are in different countries.

“That is something that I’m excited to see if I can give a little bit more insight, as opposed to just glossing over the surface of things.”

It will be interesting to watch Kearney’s input over the coming weeks, given how he has very recently played against so many of those involved in the Autumn Nations Cup. His tactical insights will certainly be very up-to-date.

Of course, the Louth man isn’t an ex-professional rugby player yet.

He has signed for the Western Force in Perth for their 2021 season, which will involve the domestic Super Rugby AU championship before a Trans-Tasman competition versus the Kiwi sides.

It should prove to be a thrilling finale to Kearney’s decorated playing career.

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“It came about quite late on, being perfectly honest,” said Kearney of how the move happened. “In August/September time, I had almost resigned myself to the fact that I was looking at retirement in October.

“I was still looking out there. There were a few discussions with an English Premiership team, a Japanese team, a French team, and they broke down for one reason or another, either my end or their end.

“Very late on, mid-September, the Western Force came in and showed a little bit of interest. Initially, I thought that nothing was really going to happen from that but it accelerated quite quickly and when I stepped back from the whole thing, it was far too good an opportunity to turn down.

“It’s only a six-month contract, my body still feels good, mentally I’m still good. To go and live in a place like Perth is very exciting.

“It’s going to be difficult playing in Super Rugby, I’m very aware of the challenge that’s going to present, but what’s the worst that can go wrong? There’s no point in wondering about these things and in a year’s time, saying to myself, ‘I should have done that.’

“It’s exciting, I’m not sure what is in store for me but there’s only one way to find out.”

rob-kearney Kearney kicking an AFL ball during Ireland's tour of Australia in 2018. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Force were cut from Super Rugby back in 2017 but survived until their re-integration into the Aussie rugby circle this year when Covid-19 disrupted the status quo.

They will hope to make a bigger impact in 2021 and Kearney has spoken to the club about “a big onus being on me to try and help develop some of the younger players that are in the squad.”

One of them will be 21-year-old scrum-half Michael McDonald, a fellow Cooley Peninsula native who moved to Perth with his family at the age of 13 and helped the Australia U20s into the World Championship final last year.

McDonald has re-joined the Force after spending 2020 with the Waratahs and Kearney is looking forward to working with the youngster.

“I know the family really well, they live about five minutes up the road. Cooley is not a big place! I think our dads played together for Dundalk and even from when I was going into Dundalk, I’d have known the whole family very well.

“I would have spoken to Michael when he was moving over there and before his U20s World Cup, so there’s a little bit of connection there.

“Our dads still keep in regular contact, so it will be nice to get out there and see them and hopefully, I’ll be able to pass a little bit of knowledge onto him and take him under my wing.”

Further up the chain, the Force have a billionaire owner in Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest, the man who kept them alive after the club was cut from Super Rugby. Kearney is looking forward to meeting Forrest, who made much of his fortune in the iron ore industry.

“He is very keen on bringing this team and Australian rugby back to a global level.

“So who knows what sort of opportunities could come from that for me personally off the field as well, which is something I’m quite excited about too.”

You can watch Autumn Nations Cup action live on Premier Sports via the ‘Sports Extra’ pack on Sky’.

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Murray Kinsella

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