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Rob Kearney ‘blown away’ by fitness required in Gaelic football

Rob Kearney

(This article was first published in January 2022) 

Former Louth minor footballer Rob Kearney returned to Gaelic football in the summer of 2021 after 17 years out of the game, having called time on a long and successful career in professional rugby.

The former Ireland international hadn’t been out of rugby for long when he returned to club GAA in August, having last played for the Western Force in Australia in June, but he still struggled to make the switch.

Kearney was speaking on Colm ‘Wooly’ Parkinson’s Smaller Fish GAA podcast and admitted that he didn’t have much of an impact on Cooley Kickhams and that his time in Gaelic football is likely over.

Rob Kearney is ready to call time on his playing career.

“To be honest with you Wooly, I think I’ll pack it in all together. It was more selfishly just something that I wanted to do before I completely hung up the boots in every regard,” Kearney said.

“It’s tough work going back there two or three times a week. I always say my admiration for county and club players going home and working in Dublin or living in different parts of the country. Making that commitment is enormous.

“You get out of the car after an hour and a half and you’re straight onto the field. It’s tough to maintain that and the fact that I wasn’t particularly good at it.

“I was a good football player when I was coming up through the ranks and at 15, 16, 17, 18. I was knocking around the minor county scene for three years, I was playing a club county final and I was good.

“I knew that I was never going to be able to get to any sort of that level but I didn’t think that I would have regret as much as I had.”

‘The level of conditioning blew me away.’

While it’s safe to say Kearney is quite a fit individual, having played professional rugby for 16 years, the 35-year-old found that he was struggling to keep up with the pace of Gaelic football.

Kearney is no stranger to the game, having played for Cooley Kickhams and the Louth minors when he was younger, but he had last played Gaelic football in 2004, shortly before signing his first contract with Leinster Rugby.

Although there were tactical aspects that Kearney struggled to adjust to, he found the fast-paced nature of the sport particularly difficulty to get used to after playing rugby for so long.

“Maybe naively I thought that, because I had played it so much growing up and it was a ball game I played a lot when I was younger that I could get back and pick it up,” Kearney explained.

“Playing rugby I was always moving forward afield and then you go into a full forward line in Gaelic football and you’re moving backwards and the ball is coming into you from different directions.

“I probably would have been more suited to playing in defence. It just makes more sense from what I did on a rugby field for so long. But I did find it difficult. The level of conditioning blew me away as well.

“That was the single biggest thing I noticed. In rugby if there’s a knock on or the ball goes into touch, it can be 90 seconds or two minutes before play resumes again. In Gaelic football the referee blows his whistle in five seconds and you’re gone again.

“I played a few games in the middle of the field and I was up and down and when I finally got the ball I had no energy to do anything with it. You’re just hand passing it on to anyone who’s available.”

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