15 Aug 2022

INSIDE TRACK | Rob Kearney, has there ever been a better green No.15?

Rugby World Cup

INSIDE TRACK | Rob Kearney, has there ever been a better green No.15?

Rob Kearney is not only on the Ireland World Cup squad, but is the first choice full-back.

Let’s take a look at the positive first. Rob Kearney is not only on the Ireland World Cup squad, but is the first choice full-back. Staying free of injury, he’ll be in for the crucial opening pool match with Scotland, and all others after that, depending how the table takes shape.

Japan, the host team, are being touted as possible surprise-packets in Pool A. They’re second up for Ireland; after that come Russia. Maybe by the time the last match with Samoa comes around, Joe Schmidt’s side will have qualified for the quarter-finals, allowing the under-fire head coach to give those on the periphery a run-out.

At one stage the chances of what we know as the three-strong Cooley Contingent making it to Japan for the six-week jamboree were solid. RK was always odds-on to be in, and few would have bet against Devin Toner being in the 31 as well.

An injury-free run in recent times would have had the other Kearney, Dave, under less pressure going into the ‘trials’ which took place just prior to Schmidt making his final selection. He scored a try against Italy, wasn’t played against England, and only got the second half in the Millennium Stadium meeting with Wales.

While the younger of the brothers’ omission – he was one of the nine from Carton training ground regulars not to make it - wasn’t commented upon in the national media, Toner’s non-inclusion had most of the copy-makers in overdrive and headline-writers reaching for the biggest typeface they could get up on the screen. Few, if any, approved of the decision to leave the giant lock forward at home.

Some former players weren’t best pleased either. “It beggars belief,” said Brian O’Driscoll, who, in a stellar career, shared an Ireland and Leinster dressing room many times over with the big man, who, although living in County Meath, is claimed as one of their own by Carlingford and Bellurgan folk.

But let’s put the negatives aside and instead celebrate Kearney’s latest achievement.

There’s a programme that goes out every so often on a Sky sports channel. It’s a celebration of great sportsmen and teams of the past. Though the pictures are grainy, the speed and agility which won Jesse Owens four golds at the 1936 Berlin Olympics can easily be appreciated – there’s no need for embellishment. Almost every time the slightly-built athlete from Cleveland, Ohio, put a foot on the track or landed in the long-jump pit he equalled or bettered an Olympic or world record.

Pele, in there pitching with Messi, Ronaldo, Maradona and Cruyff in the joust for soccer’s greatest-ever tag, played in four World Cup finals and scored in each of them. The segment on the imperious Brazilian dwells on the 1970 final. That day in Mexico City’s Aztec Stadium he scored one goal and ‘made’ another in his side’s 4-1 win over Italy.

The Sky programme’s piece on rugby dwells on the collective rather than individuals. Willie John McBride captained the Lions on the 1974 tour of South Africa, and what a tour it was, the tourists winning 21 of their 22 games and drawing the other one. The big Ballymena man had JP Williams, Mike Gibson, Phil Bennett, Fran Cotton, Roger Uttley and Gareth Edwards, to name just a few, as his colleagues. They were the best at the time from this part of the world.

Kearney was a Lion in 2009 and again four years later. The upcoming renewal will be his third World Cup; when he lined out at The Aviva on Saturday last he was winning his 92nd cap. Then there are his wins, four Six Nations, two Grand Slams included, and a huge slice of all that Leinster has achieved. In 2012 he was voted Europe’s best player.

Kearney would get votes but mightn’t get elected in a contest for Ireland’s greatest. But has there ever been a better green No.15? Playing in the era mentioned above, he’d have been in there scrapping with JPR for the red jersey.

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