Rob Kearney keen to keep Leinster on trophy trail
Fullback concedes Matt O’Connor’s first season can be deemed a success
Rob Kearney and Brian O’Driscoll share a lighter moment during a Leinster squad training a session at UCD ahead of the Pro 12 final on Saturday. Photograph: Inpho
The most exciting moment for the Donnybrook crowd last Friday night came five minutes before kick-off. That’s when the senior Leinster players made their way along the touchline and into the enclosed area of the stand. It was no fault of the hosts that Leeds Carnegie were little more than a oversized AIL side as the British and Irish Cup was retained without any fuss.
Leinster had no interest in also retaining the Challenge Cup last weekend so Saturday presents an opportunity to surpass the achievements of Joe Schmidt’s 2013 Leinster squad that, of course, included Jonathan Sexton and Isa Nacewa. “Yeah, I was really encouraged by it,” said Rob Kearney of Friday’s performance. “It is only in the quarter-, semi- and finals of the B and I that you can properly judge lads.
“And because there are so many of these young guys coming through it is getting harder and harder for them to get these opportunities. You might get one or two a season and if you don’t take it you are back to the back of the queue for the foreseeable future.
“I’ll be honest, there were a few lads I didn’t know a huge amount about before the final and with one good performance you have made a name for yourself.”
When Kearney was asked to name names he isolated the flawless kicking and creativity of outhalf Cathal Marsh, Jack Conan and last year’s St Michael’s College captain Ross Molony. “A lot of the guys show up well in training but you can never really judge them until game day.”
Molony, in particular, seemed to make a name for himself in a professional context.
Kearney concedes Matt O’Connor’s first season, while so obviously transitional, can still be deemed a success. So long as they beat Glasgow. “I think this year it’s even more important, because there has been a lot of change. Our performances have really dipped a huge amount and I think it’s a sign of a really good team if you are poor throughout a season and can still come away with a trophy at the end of it.
“I think, given our history over the last four or five years winning silverware, to envisage a season where that didn’t happen would illustrate that you’re taking a step back.”
The “slip” was initially expected to be far more spectacular. “Yeah, you always know you’re going to face some tough challenges and it’s difficult to maintain that throughout a whole year and when you lose key guys and a key coach I suppose there’s part of you that says it’s normal, acceptable but there’s another part of you that says it’s only three guys. There’s a strong team ethic, a strong culture that, when you look at it from that perspective, another part of you says you shouldn’t make excuses for that.”