Echoes of Ronan O’Gara’s fortitude but Ian Keatley doing it his way
Paul O’Connell (right) and Ian Keatley celebrate victory over Leinster in their RaboDirect Pro12 game at Thomond Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Nobody is perfect. Even Ronan O’Gara was not immune to missing kickable penalties. What set him apart hereabouts was his ability to put them aside. There were many impressive aspects to the way Ian Keatley played on Saturday, and not the least of them was demonstrating the same mental strength.
When Keatley snatched at an eminently kickable 25-metre penalty in the 14th minute which hit the upright, it was soon compounded by Ian Madigan wheeling away from a second successful penalty in trademark fashion.
Keatley had already been taking the ball to the gain line – releasing Donnacha Ryan with one deft inside pass – and had been kicking out of hand assuredly. Undeterred by his miss, he turned the game around by landing a penalty, dummying inside Jamie Heaslip to break clear and kick ahead, and then crosskicking for Keith Earls to score the game’s only try, converted it and landed three second-half penalties.
Learning behind O’Gara in his first season had been hugely beneficial, and while he felt he was pushing harder for the 10 jersey last season, “in the big games, Rog came up trumps for us and you can’t have any complaints about that. But I felt last year I was pushing Rog and this year hopefully I can step up.
“ They are big shoes to fill but I’m not trying to be Rog, I’m trying to be Ian Keatley and I play completely different to him.”
Nevertheless, although the 26-year-old started the corresponding fixture last season, Keatley was this time the first choice outhalf.
“I always wanted it to be my time. I wanted it to be my time last year. I suppose it is a little bit different in that Rob (Penney) has come out and said I’m the number one, which is a nice thing to hear.
“I didn’t have that last year. I’m just excited to be here this season. We’ve had a good start, we had a little slip up in Treviso but apart from that, in training and even in the matches we’re pretty excited for the whole game.”
Penney has juggled his outhalves deftly this season, and the pleasantly modest Keatley said of his “rivalry” with JJ Hanrahan: “Me and JJ are both based in Limerick and we go out kicking nearly every day.
“We have a really strong relationship both off and on the field. We are both trying to beat the person in front of you. At the end of the day, your career, your life, what you want to make of it from what’s in front of you, you have to take it (the opportunity) but, off the field we are friends and at the end of the day it is Team Munster not Keatley and JJ. You want to do the best for Munster.”
If being omitted from Joe Schmidt’s first 42-man squad hurt, he did well not to let it show. “Obviously I want to be playing for Ireland. I want to be in those squads. I could kinda understand there weren’t that many games since the summer tour so Joe has no reason to drop any player out of that Irish squad, and he had a reason to bring a few players in.”
Schmidt also rang Keatley to explain what more he wanted of Keatley. “He always wants his 10s to be assured defensively, so just to keep stepping up and making sure the number 10 channel is secured and kicking to touch, as well, especially off penalties, to go for a bit more. They are the things he said for me to work on.”
Keatley does not concur with James Downey’s view that being one of four Leinstermen in Munster’s ranks made them more motivated to beat them.
“Leinster are seen as the number one team in Ireland and you want to beat them, it is a simple as that.
“I didn’t get let go by Leinster. I decided to leave them because I thought it would be a better career path at Connacht at the time because they had Sexton and Contepomi and they had just brought in Nacewa, who I was told was going to be played at number 10, so I weighed up my option and decided it was best for me to leave.
“The reason you want to beat Leinster is they are seen as the best and you want to beat the best, to be the best.”