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Sunday, September 25, 2022

Time out injured has given Dave Kearney a new appreciation of the daily grind

Not since his first full season as a professional rugby player had Dave Kearney played as few games as he did last term.

or a man who has become part of the furniture at Leinster, making four appearances and just three starts across the course of the season was not what Kearney was used to.

Injury wreaked havoc and as he watched younger wingers seize their opportunity, Kearney was forced into a frustrating watching brief.

All the while he was doing so, another one of his team-mates made the difficult decision to hang up his boots, as Dan Leavy joined an unwanted list of early retirees.

Although Kearney always felt he would make it back, having turned 33 in June, he knew time wasn’t exactly on his side.

If anything, though, it reminded him to appreciate the good times even more, which is why he is relishing the chance to build on his try-scoring start to the season last weekend, when Leinster host Benetton at the RDS tomorrow.

“Definitely, of course,” Kearney says. “As you get older you definitely start to think about that more. In your mid-20s you don’t think about it then. It’s since you get into the 30s you start to think about it more.

“Once you know you are coming to terms with it, it’s part of it, you know? You kind of have to enjoy your last bits of it as well whenever that’s going to be.

“But yeah, not take for granted all the times you get turned out in the RDS on Friday night or being around, playing with the lads being in the changing room whatever it is. Yeah, I think you probably do appreciate those times whenever you get a little bit older.”

Leavy’s recent case further highlighted how quickly the dream can end, and having battled his own fair share of injuries over the years, Kearney understands the precarious nature of the business.

“I guess you know that from when you start playing,” he says.

“When I was younger with the likes of Eoin O’Malley retiring and more recently Dan Leavy. That’s always a factor when you play rugby, so again it is one of those things you can’t take for granted.

“You get that reminder so often unfortunately. We never like to see that happen but it’s just the nature of the game and the sport we’re in. Yeah, you definitely do begin to appreciate the game, appreciate the sport more when that does happen to lads.”

No matter what happens from here on in, Kearney can look back at his career having achieved more than most could ever dream of, but the burning fire within him means he’s not finished just yet, even if he admits that his Ireland ambitions are on the back-burner for now.

Kearney won the last of his 19 caps in a warm-up game ahead of the 2019 World Cup, and while he would love to pull on the green jersey again, he knows he has a lot of ground to make up.

“It’s probably not at the forefront of my mind at the moment considering I haven’t really been involved over the last few years.

“Maybe two years ago I felt like I could have been involved or I should have been, but I wasn’t.

“Like, I mean never say never. At the moment I’m focusing on playing well here.

“Obviously, we have a very competitive squad. The strength in depth we have it’s like an Irish team really.

“Getting into this team for the bigger games, the European games, is a goal of mine this season. Just to (do so) regularly, I guess.”

His older brother Rob is no longer part of the Leinster dressing room, but he is still on hand to pass on advice whenever called upon, with Dave not ruling out the possibility of following his lead by finishing his career somewhere like Australia. “He’s still watching all our games,” Kearney adds.

“It’s not like I don’t have him for a sounding board to chat about performances. Yeah, obviously it’s a change but it’s like when anyone leaves Leinster.

“Obviously he’s still involved in rugby and commentating on games, so he still has an eye for the game and has a good knowledge of everything, so it’s definitely still good for me in terms of giving me feedback on my game and stuff which is good.

“There’s probably not many Irish players that have gone down and played in Australia so I think the opportunities probably don’t come about that often but, of course, it would entice any player here to go and experience something like that.

“A different environment, a different atmosphere when you have been in a club for 13 or 14 years. It’s definitely nice to have a change of environment.”

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