Mick Kearney finding the love for rugby again with Ulster

Secondrow was close to going into the family building business before Dan McFarland called

Mick Kearney is enjoying his time with Ulster after falling out of love with rugby for a while. Photograph: Massimiliano Carnabuci/Inpho

Playing on a short-term deal with Ulster, Mick Kearney is sanguine about what the future holds, for with each passing week the well-travelled 30-year-old lock is in bonus territory.

Born in Dublin and schooled in Mount Temple, the former Irish under-20s player came through the Leinster underage set-up and Clontarf before spending four seasons with Connacht, another four with his native province and latterly Zebre for two seasons.

That, it seemed, might be that for his professional rugby career.

“When I came back from Italy I’d kind of fallen out of love with the game a small bit,” he admitted this week. “I just wasn’t enjoying it but I still knew that if I could get my foot in the door in a good environment that I would really enjoy it again.”


As a Plan B, he was considering the building business.

“My family run a building suppliers, Celuplast, and there is a side to that called Guardian Building Products that do roofing and extensions so I was looking at that side of the business.

“I was going to roll up the sleeves. I’d much prefer to have a hands-on approach as opposed to being behind a desk. I was putting a bit of a team together in the middle of September. It’s residential housing extensions, so I was on the hunt for a good builder and then thankfully a call came through.”

The call was from Dan McFarland, his first forwards coach at Connacht a decade ago. With Iain Henderson’s seasonal debut delayed and Academy secondrow Cormac Izuchukwu sidelined, McFarland wanted secondrow cover.

Kearney had received other offers, but none that rocked his boat like Ulster's, all the more so after talking with another nomadic Irish lock and mate, Ian Nagle.

“Ian had an unbelievably positive experience here before he went to Zebre. He said it was the most positive experience of his whole career.

“For him to say that after being at Munster, Leinster, London Irish and Zebre was all I really I needed to hear.

“We’re really good friends and I trust his opinion on a lot of things, so once I heard that it was a no-brainer.”

Linking up with old under-20s team-mates like Henderson, Marty Moore, Jordi Murphy, Craig Gilroy and Luke Marshall, Kearney was excellent on debut as a half-time replacement in Ulster's opening game against Glasgow, when making eight carries and 13 tackles, and started the win away to Zebre before another impactful half-hour against Benetton.

That marked his 150th game professional game since his Connacht debut.

“Every game is a trial and a chance to impress,” is his new philosophy. “If you don’t go out and perform, that’s all it’s going to be, a trial and nothing more. If you watch Hard Knocks, the NFL documentary, where they can get a rattle on the door on any given day, I’ve tried to have a similar enough approach to this experience and the pressure has made it really enjoyable as well.

“In terms of there being an opportunity after this, the answer is I don’t know. One thing I do know is that I don’t know. I’d love to stay and have really enjoyed the experience so far. They are a great bunch of lads with really hard-working and ambitious coaches. If an opportunity comes up brilliant, if it doesn’t I’ve really enjoyed the experience for what it was.”

After this Friday’s game at home to the Lions, Ulster have derbies either side of the November window against Connacht, at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday week, and Leinster at the RDS, two games he’d love to be involved in.

“For me I don’t see any gaping differences between Leinster and Ulster. It’s not like a 50 per cent difference. There are no big things, just a combination of little things. If Ulster can continue to do things really well and that coupled with the vision that the players and the coaches put together, there should be success down the line.

"But there are 15 other teams in the URC who are trying to win trophies as well and it's just about showing up and performing on the night and on a daily basis as well."

Not least for himself.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times