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Rob Kearney has 210 senior appearances for Leinster and 90 Ireland caps to his name and it would be no surprise if he joins the illustrious 100+ club over the next 12 months.
The Louth native has big-game experience but Kearney’s introduction to the big-game atmosphere came on the GAA field where he represented Louth as a county minor back in 2003.
They say mighty oaks from little acorns grow. Kearney was able to navigate his way to the top in the oval ball sport by transferring the skills and experience he acquired during his days playing GAA.
In rugby, fielding is one of the most important aspects of fullback play, especially in the modern game. Fullbacks have to deal with perfectly executed kicks which hang in the air and invite opposition players to compete.
In addition to this, a 15 must also have superb spatial awareness and a big engine due to the necessity to cover large portions of the backfield to counteract opposition kicks.
There is little doubt that when Kearney was lining out in midfield for the Louth minors in 2003, the attributes he developed with the big ball code in an extremely competitive minor Leinster championship, supported his journey to the top of world rugby.
Kearney played his underage club football with Cooley Kickhams while he was also on the famous Louth minor side which reached the semi-finals of the 2003 Leinster minor championship.
Kearney was described as a “lean, dynamic all-rounder” in his football days and if you look up any match report from Louth’s semi-final replay loss to Dublin, Kearney’s absence due to injury was lamented or provided a reason for the loss, such was his importance to that young side.
Kearney began his football career with Naomh Mhuire and Cooley Kickhams before he received a call-up to county’s underage set-up.
Prior to 2002, Louth had failed to win a minor championship match in 10 years and their journey to the 2003 Leinster semi-final began with a preliminary championship clash with Longford, a game in which Kearney scored a crucial second-half point to help his side to regain the lead before eventually emerging 0-12 to 0-9 winners.
Heavy wins over Kilkenny, Carlow and Wicklow followed and this set them up for a home quarter-final clash with Offaly in Ardee as Louth emerged victorious with a seven-point win.
This set up a daunting clash with Dublin in the semi-final and unfortunately for Kearney’s team, they conceded an injury-time point which brought the game to a replay. The 90 times capped Ireland international was missing for the replay as Louth’s season came to an end when they fell to a 1-12 to 1-07 defeat.
That wasn’t the only heartbreak that Kearney suffered in football as a year later, he was on the Cooley Kickhams side which lost the county final to neighbours St.Pat’s.
“Yes I do miss the game (football),” Kearney said in a previous interview.
“It was a different era, a local team and a national sport, but I had a choice and I wouldn’t change that.”
It was Kearney’s schooling at the rugby nursery of Clongowes Wood College which helped announce himself on the rugby scene but it’s safe to say that the joy, the heartbreak and the resilience which he experienced during the minor championship with Louth certainly contributed to what he has achieved in rugby.
British and Irish Lions tours, Ireland caps, domestic and European success with Leinster – Rob Kearney has hit many milestones which most aspiring rugby players could only dream of achieving but his first taste of major stardom came with the Louth minor side.
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