Dave Kearney hopes to take wing again with Leinster
Back has endured a frustrating season with injuries and aims to make a mark against Connacht
Dave Kearney: Ireland wing has made only seven appearances for Leinster this season. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Injuries are the snakes & ladders of sport, either a maddening and slippery descent back to square one or the occasional a leg up on the misfortune of others. They’re not mutually exclusive in the context of a single season.
The mental fatigue that can be more wearing than the physical, especially when the word injury is pluralised. Dave Kearney’s abridged playing time contains seven appearances, four in the first five games of Leinster’s season, two, a fortnight apart in February and the most recent as a replacement during the victory over Ospreys last weekend.
He spent 16 weeks recovering from an ankle issue initially, picked up a suspected concussion against Benetton Treviso on his return and a toe injury in the following game that kept him on the sideline for another seven weeks.
Kearney admits: “There have been some really tough times when you question a few things. With the ankle I didn’t really know when I would be back. Every week it was like, ‘I could be back next week, or the week after; we didn’t really know exactly what the problem was. That was frustrating from that point of view. The motivation was there to work hard and get back.
“With other injuries you know exactly when you are going to be back. If you break an arm or a leg you know you have a window and you’ll be back within these two weeks.”
An injured player remains on the inside but at arm’s length from affairs on the pitch. He attends meetings, talks to coaches, keeps abreast of the patterns of play but it’s a superficial interest without the substances of matches.
Kearney understood the need to be positive, focusing on making incremental improvements on strength and speed, things that he wouldn’t have been able to concentrate on during a season in which he was playing all the time.
Finishing a thesis for a degree in sponsorship and brand management was a “welcome” distraction that made it easier to retain his sanity. Leinster’s freewheeling, expansive patterns and desire to primarily attack with the ball in hand would be so attractive for any wing; well not an injured one.
Kearney enjoyed the success that Leinster from a distance. “It is my team, my team-mates, my friends and my club. It is fantastic to see we’ve improved this season, come a long way from where we were last season. It’s tougher not being a full part of it. Hopefully I can add value over the next few months.”
So what’s life like at home, sharing an apartment with his flatmate and brother, Rob, who coincidentally also happens to be injured. He smiles: “Two grumpy lads walking around the house all day is probably not great.
“Whenever we’ve picked up injuries one has been fit and the other hasn’t been. There haven’t been many weeks when we’ve both been injured. It’s worse when we’re both injured.”
Bank of credit
In his absence, Adam Byrne, has grasped the opportunity presented and despite potentially having a bank of credit, Kearney knows he’ll have work hard to try and reclaim his place. The synergy of sport is that Byrne, who got a chance because of Kearney’s injury, is currently struggling with a hamstring.
The latter won the last of his 16 caps for Ireland in last year’s Six Nations Championship, a tally he’ll be keen to add to, during the summer tour. However there is so much to play for before then in the blue of Leinster.
“Yeah, the coaches know what I can do and what I can bring. You’re not going to be just handed the jersey, especially if lads are going well. If I was in someone’s position where I was playing and someone else was given a jersey straight after coming back from injury, I obviously wouldn’t be happy.
“I have to fight to get a playing spot back and I know how difficult that is going to be. I know how important and how scarce opportunities are coming towards the end of the season. I just need to be ready for them when they come.”
That is likely to continue with a place on the team that travels to the home of defending champions Connacht on Saturday, somewhere where Leinster haven’t won since January 2014.
Kearney knows how tough it’ll be but when parsed against what he’s endured this season from an injury perspective, it’s something that will happily embrace.