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'The dream is to get a professional contract, whether it be here or at home'

Irish out-half Seán Kearns has been in excellent form in the Shute Shield in Australia.

GORDON RUGBY CLUB had a crucial Shute Shield clash in Sydney today as their drive for a play-off spot came into the final two regular season games, and key to their hopes of earning that spot is Irish out-half Seán Kearns.

The former Leinster underage playmaker, who won two Leinster Schools Senior Cups with Blackrock, has been a prolific presence for Gordon this season, with his haul of 156 points leaving him just two off the top of the individual charts heading into this weekend.

Sean Kearns Kick 2 Kearns has been prolific with the boot for Gordon. Source: Gordon Rugby

The Shute Shield is played between 11 clubs in Sydney and is perhaps the strongest club rugby competition in Australia, with games screened live on television and high-profile players involved.

As Kearns steered the ship for Gordon against play-off rivals Eastern Suburbs today [KO 6am Irish time], Australian international Karmichael Hunt was alongside him in the 12 shirt, while Wallabies back row Jack Dempsey started in Gordon’s number six jersey.

“You’re playing against a contracted Super Rugby player or two most weekends,” explains Kearns, who turned 24 in May. 

“There are a lot of Pacific Islanders playing, they’re massive. We played against a 115kg centre recently and you actually had to tackle him high because his legs were so big he could just bounce you off.”

That Kearns has become a popular figure at Gordon and a central player in their ‘First Grade’ side is not a major surprise given his rugby CV in Ireland before moving to Sydney last October.

Indeed, the out-half has strong ambitions of earning a professional rugby contract.

Having come through as a student in CBC Monkstown, Kearns’ rugby ability began to impress at Junior Cup level and a particularly strong performance against Blackrock – when he nailed a long-range drop-goal – earned him a move to the famous rugby school.

Nudge Kearns has a big boot. Source: 7TWO

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Kearns developed further at Blackrock under the guidance of coaches Peter Smyth and Gareth Pickering, featuring off the bench in the school’s 2013 Senior Cup win before being a key man at out-half in their 2014 title.

“Those two years we won are definitely my two favourite years playing rugby,” says Kearns.

“In fifth year, we had Garry Ringrose, Oliver Jager who plays for the Crusaders now, and loads of other good players. Our sixth-year team was absolute quality – Jeremy Loughman, Conor Oliver, Joey Carbery, Nick Timoney, David O’Connor. It was stacked.”

Carbery played at fullback in that Blackrock team with Kearns occupying the 10 shirt, while they were in the same positions on a memorable day when Leinster Schools U19s beat the touring Australia U19s in December 2013.

Kearns was a star performer on that occasion, scoring 17 points that included an impressive solo try and conversions of tries from James Ryan and Timoney.

Kearns looked like he could continue on through the Leinster pathway but Carbery slotted into out-half at U20 level and suddenly the path of progress was blocked.

“Joey played 15 in school but then moved into 10 at that stage, so it was tough. I couldn’t really get a look in for the sub-academy or academy because I was behind Joey in that Leinster U20 set-up and it was tough to go from there.

“It’s very, very competitive in Leinster, as you can tell from their success. The cream of the crop get through and it’s tough not being able to progress through after playing underage, going from that high of two Senior Cups.

Sean Kearns Kearns in Blackrock colours in 2014. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“You feel like you’re going to keep going, keep going, but then it’s the tough reality of being behind one player. The year before, I might have got a game and got into the sub-academy. It depends on who is in your year and that’s tough.”

On the advice of Smyth, Kearns joined St Mary’s club after school and soon began to make an impact in Division 1A of the All-Ireland League, with his accurate kicking proving important for the Templeville Road-based outfit.

“Mary’s is a great club and the experience I got playing 1A developed me as a young lad,” says Kearns. “You’re playing against men who have a lot of years and a lot of weight on you!”

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But with his prospects of breaking into the pro game in Ireland looking unlikely and also keen to see more of the world, Kearns moved to Australia with his partner Heather last year, taking his time to find the right club in Sydney.

Having been put in touch with Alan Gaffney, Kearns initially spoke to the famous Randwick club, as well as Eastern Suburbs, but an approach from Gordon proved convincing, with the experienced Darren Coleman having taken over as head coach.

A long pre-season began in November and involved several sevens competitions that instantly pushed Kearns to learn and improve. With the Shute Shield having kicked off in April, he believes he has become a far more complete player in Australia.

“The style of play has pushed me to learn. My game back home was mostly based on my kicking – obviously kicking is huge in Ireland because the weather’s always crap and it’s all about the territory and taking your three points.

“Whereas here, you obviously need to have a good goal-kicker but you have to develop your game to suit the situation. It’s really heads-up, play what you see and if a pass is on, it doesn’t matter if you’re a prop or a fullback – you should be able to hit that pass no matter what.

Try Kearns scores a try in the Shute Shield. Source: Gordon Rugby

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“I think the skill level at home is really good and it’s really strategic. It’s similar here but they do try to push that extra pass or offload. The forwards would have that a bit more in their skillset than at home. 

“It’s definitely improved me as a player with my all-round game. My kicking was probably always my highlight and that’s pushed onto another level but my overall attack and defence have completely improved.”

Kearns is focused on helping Gordon to secure play-off rugby but he’s also keen to push onto the next level.

There are hopes of impressing a team in the upcoming National Rugby Championship – the tier below Super Rugby – or possibly earning a move back to Ireland or somewhere else in the world.

“The dream is to get a professional contract, whether it be here or at home,” says Kearns, who can also play at fullback. “It’s still the main objective.

“I’m absolutely loving my time here in Australia but if it meant going home or somewhere else to pursue that dream, that’s what I’d do.”

Kearns and his partner have already got sponsorship lined up to get their initial one-year working holiday visas extended if they are keen to stay in Australia, and it’s certainly not something the out-half is ruling out.

Touchline Kearns kicks a touchline conversion. Source: 7TWO

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Working in an F45 gym alongside his rugby and loving life in fitness-mad Sydney, Kearns would happily stay but he’s determined to make his way in professional rugby, particularly when he sees several of his former team-mates in Ireland breaking through.

“I played at the same standard those lads played at and I know I’m capable of playing at the level they’re playing at now,” says Kearns.

“It’s great being able to talk to them about changes they’ve made to their training. I’m good friends with David O’Connor, who has been fighting for a contract for years and is now up with his brother in Ulster.

“To this day, it’s the dream to get a professional contract. I love the game and it’s always on my mind to get to that next level and go into a professional set-up. That’s my main objective.”

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Murray Kinsella

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