It’s only in years to come that we’ll fully appreciate what Robert Kearney has achieved on the rugby pitch. His current CV is impressive – a Grand Slam, two Heineken Cups, a Lions tour, and a not insignificant number of International caps, 49 to be exact. Also included is a European Player-of-the-Year award.
There’s more in the locker, no doubt. In a few weeks’ time he takes in another Lions Tour, having perhaps in the meantime helped Leinster to a couple of wins, each of them just a little less significant than a Heineken Cup. He’s 27, and if staying free of serious injury could become this country’s most decorated full-back. Indeed, who says he’s not that already?
His Lions début in South Africa four years ago was sensational. Having come in as a reserve during the opening Test for the injured Welshman, Lee Byrne, he was an automatic choice for the last two, and played a leading role in the defeat of the host nation in the second of those. His fielding, honed, no doubt, in the days when he wore the Cooley Kickhams and Louth minors jerseys, had even the Springboks in awe. He also got among the try-scorers.
Another Welshman, Leigh Halfpenny, stands in Kearney’s way of getting game time in the coming Tests matches with Australia. The other contender for the full-back spot is a Scot, 20-year-old Stuart Hogg.
Coach, Warren Gatland, who has seen duty at International level in Ireland and Wales, most recently in the valleys, has already waved the red flag by naming Cardiff Blue, Sam Warburton, as one of the youngest-ever to captain the Lions. Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell are without question on their last tour, and both, Drico in particular, had armband claims. Gatland, however, would probably claim he doesn’t do sentiment.
All of that aside, getting up early - as I’m sure we’ll have to do - to watch the Tests on telly will be only worth the effort if RK is in at No 15.