Keith Earls: ‘My now wife, who I’ve been with since I was 12, always encouraged me’

First steps to top level: Munster player on his early rugby days and the support he received

Munster fullback Keith Earls in action  against   Clermont    at Thomond Park in 2008. Photograph: Eric Luke

Munster fullback Keith Earls in action against Clermont at Thomond Park in 2008. Photograph: Eric Luke

 
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Munster and Ireland rugby player Keith Earls explains how he got into the sport as a young boy in Limerick city, who encouraged him to keep it up, and what advice he’d give to others who dream of following his sporting career.

How did you get into sport?

My first moment in sport wasn’t really rugby, it was soccer. Soccer was my first love before rugby, even though my father played rugby at a high level for Munster. I played soccer in school and I loved playing it on the fields at home. My father never pushed rugby on me as a kid. I played every sport in school, everything from javelin to sprinting, I think it was more to get off school rather than to take it seriously. Corpus Christi was my primary school in Moyross and we used to have instructors come in and teach us anything from hurling to tag rugby.

In my secondary school I played rugby and soccer and then I went to St Munchin’s and it was all rugby. I went there in fifth year. I was part of the senior cup winning team in 2006.

Keith Earls (middle row, third from right) with his St Munchin’s College Senior Cup-winning team in 2006.
Keith Earls (middle row, third player from right) with his St Munchin’s College Senior Cup-winning team in 2006.

Throughout school there was a big emphasis on PE and playing sports.

My father was only 19 or 20 when I was born so when I was at the age of 10 he was still in the height of playing rugby and even into my teenage years. I remember him having a gym set up in the house and he’d be training and trying to get stronger to play rugby, he was kind of professional before it went professional, so I was always kind of around it and he is big into sports himself.

Back then there was no real technology, so we were constantly playing on the roads no matter what sport was on TV between the tennis, the hurling, the Gaelic football, soccer World Cups and rugby World Cups. We were going to be out there playing whatever was on really. I had an unbelievable childhood growing up.

I would have been a shy child so sport got me out mixing with other people outside my circle of friends. It got me out of my comfort zone and talking to other people that I wasn’t really that friendly with and developing those friendships.

Was there a time you nearly gave up sport and who encouraged you to keep going?

I can’t say there was really, even though there’s obviously times in my professional career you kind of get sick of it – but not when I was younger. There was a time that you might want to give it up for a couple of weeks that you’re probably sick of travelling or whatever. When I started travelling with rugby early on maybe, schools rugby etc you might have to travel and as I said mixing was kind of a bit uncomfortable for me.

There were times where I didn’t want to go to certain camps and my parents and my now wife, who I’ve been with since I was 12, she encouraged me as well, which was great and quite mature of her for being such a young girl. They would have pushed me on. I wasn’t going to give up forever, but getting out of my comfort zone was the massive part of sport for me and you know, at times when I didn’t want to go my parents and Edel would have pushed me to do it.

I always played at my own age level and the year above me in rugby and soccer so I was playing or training everyday of the week. There was a period of time when my father was coming home from work and I’d be panned out on the couch getting a quick nap between training. He could see I was being absolutely burnt out and being dragged in all directions. He said it’s great but if I really wanted to get serious about a sport at the age of 16/17, I should pick one of them and give it 100 per cent and see can I make it. Thankfully, it was rugby I picked because obviously my father played it, but the success of Munster was something I really wanted to be part of. Munster just pulled on my heartstrings and I grew up underneath the stadium of Thomond Park; I literally used to jump over the wall there every day after school with my buddies.

Richard Muagututia of Samoa tackles Ireland's Keith Earls during the under-19 World Championships in Sharjah, UAE in April, 2006.
Richard Muagututia of Samoa tackles Ireland's Keith Earls during the under-19 World Championships in Sharjah, UAE in April, 2006.

What advice do you have for young people getting into sport?

First of all, I’d encourage kids to try every sport – try to play every sport and try to play it at a decent level. Figure out what you’re good at because the skills from hurling will cross over into rugby and rugby skills will cross over into Gaelic football and to soccer, or whatever it’s going to be.

And encourage them to take that step and get out of that comfort zone, if that’s something they’re worried about. I’m aware that not everyone will become a professional sportsperson, whether it’s rugby, soccer, or go on to play hurling or football for their county, but taking that step and meeting new people and the friendships you get from it and the experiences you get from it as you get into your older years if you’re doing it socially, the craic you can have.

It’s an excellent starting ground for when you grow up into adulthood and you start getting new jobs, etc. You just get used to being in an environment you’re not really comfortable with.

Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable will have massive benefits to you on and off the field, whether you become a professional sportsperson or for life outside sports as well.

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