ROB KEARNEY’S 80-METRE dash against New Zealand had that wonderful feeling of being an epoch-making moment in Irish rugby.
It was similar to Brian O’Driscoll’s interception and full-pelt try, for Leinster against Munster, at Croke Park in 2009. One set of fans were on their feet and screaming as the other set sensed they were in deep, deep trouble.
The Irish fullback played his best game in the green jersey since Wales at home in February 2012. He was out on his feet at the death as Ryan Crotty’s try winded an entire nation. Just over an hour earlier, Kearney galvanised his team and put them 19-0 ahead. His try and made Irish fans truly believe that a first ever win over New Zealand was possible. He dotted down before crashing the ball back to the turf touchdown-style.
“I don’t remember a huge amount of it,” Kearney told TheScore.ie: “Dave [Kearney], I think, made a good tackle on Israel Dagg. Our hussle was pretty good and we put him under pressure, it bounced right into my hands and there was no one there, it was an easy sprint to the line.”
YouTube credit: therandomgolfer
It was clear from the outset that Kearney and his teammates were pumped up. Brother Dave stared ahead with intent and almost missed the passing handshake of President Michael D Higgins. Peter O’Mahony bellowed out Amhrán na bhFiann then gave Ireland’s Call a good belt. After the anthems, Kearney himself stood alone and took several deep breaths before joining his countrymen to face the Haka.
Captain Paul O’Connell called for brute force and Ireland delivered. 22-7 up at half-time and Kearney turned to scream encouragement at a shaken Brian O’Driscoll as he received on-field treatment. “It was good at half-time, wasn’t it?” Kearney reflected.
He added, “You can’t go into your shell and I think maybe we were a bit guilty of that. We had to come out in the second half and keep fighting, keep looking for scores… we needed more. That’s probably where we lost the game.” Kearney had been called from a sombre Irish dressing room to speak to the media but five minutes back there was enough to sum up the mood of the day, week and the next 10 weeks until Ireland face Scotland in the Six Nations:
I hope all 23 guys are devastated. It’s one of the worst ways to lose a game, certainly the worst finish to a game in my career, but that’s why people watch sport, because it’s so unpredictable.”
Kearney echoed the comments of Sean O’Brien when admitting that speed in setting up defensive lines in the closing stages had cost Ireland dearly. “We’re hugely disappointed and we know another couple of per cent from guys collectively coming across the field in that last couple of minutes and we would have stopped them,” he said. “One penalty given away on 79:35,” he said, “[it] could have been very, very different.”
The Leinster man believes Ireland will take ‘a huge amount of confidence’ from the 24-22 defeat to the world champions. He is well aware of the criticism the team has copped in the past two years and feels Ireland showed they can compete with the best.
“You guys [the media] come down to press conferences on the Tuesday before a big game and we say we can beat any team in the world. That’s not a party line we throw out, we genuinely believe that on our day if we fulfill our potential then we can beat any team. That’s just a matter of trying to get as close to our maximum potential as we did this week.”
– Additional reporting by Sean Farrell
Like rugby? Follow TheScore.ie’s dedicated Twitter account @rugby_ie >