IF DECLAN KIDNEY was looking for sympathy following Ireland’s Six Nations injury woes, he would surely get some from Leinster’s Joe Schmidt.
The Kiwi was watched his team, two-time Heineken Cup champions on his watch, stretched to its sinews this season and eliminated from Europe’s top table before the knock-out stages.
Injuries have ravaged his side, with Luke Fitzgerald the latest to fall, while Jonathan Sexton, Andrew Conway and Isa Nacewa will be leaving for various destinations in the summer.
One of the only bright spots of the season was securing the signature of Connacht lock Mike McCarthy but Leinster copped some flak for that.
Rob Kearney, having returned to action in time for the winning but ill-fated quest for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, believes the province’s season is a long way from over. Kearney, in fact, is looking forward to a 10-game victorious run bringing Pro12 and Amlin Cup glory.
The names of Adam Ashley Cooper and Zane Kirchner have been mentioned as prospective signings. Kearney insists he is unaware of who the club may be targeting to bring in over the coming months but he would not be averse to bulking up the squad numbers.
“It’s hard to know really,” he said. “I don’t know if they are going after players or who they are going after but you need a big squad to be sure you can get through the whole season, especially when the international season comes and you don’t know what players you might lose.”
Speaking about the knee injury that struck teammate Luke Fitzgerald down, Kearney told TheScore.ie, “We realised that injury doesn’t choose who it goes after, it can come after anyone.
In Luke’s case, where you’ve had one serious one in the last few months that you’ve come back from, there’s no reason why you can’t get another one straight away.
“It was massively bad luck for him and everyone was genuinely gutted for him.”
Jerseys to fill
Two Leinster players that will be hoping to fill the backline gaps are men who will no longer settle for the adjectives ‘emerging’ or ‘promising’.
Kearney said, “Losing Andrew there, Isa, Luke out for an unfortunate six to nine months. There is going to be an enormous opportunity there for Dave [Kearney]. Those chances don’t come along too often so you really do have to take them when they do.”
Madigan and Dave Kearney circa 2009. (©INPHO/Morgan Treacy)
The next season, his says, should be a time when Ian Madigan takes ownership of the number 10 jersey, with Kiwi Jimmy Gopperth in support.
“It’s huge,” said Kearney. “It’s his big moment to make that next step.
There’s not too many times in people’s careers when you’ve got those definite opportunities to put your best foot forward. This is going to be his. He has improved enormously over the last few years so there is no reason that he can’t do that.”
Having lost out in the Pro12 Final in 2011 and 2012, it would appear that a league win would be Leinster’s priority. Not so, argues the fullback.
“We’re in two competitions now and we really want to win both,” Kearney declared.
“It would reflect really poorly on us as a club, as a team and as people if we didn’t give the same effort and commitment to the Amlin as we do to the Heineken.”
He added, “Especially with how the Rabo has gone for us these last couple of years we need to make a big statement.”
*Rob Kearney is the ambassador for the Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Skills Challenge 2013, which is taking place from June to August across the country. For more on the event, visit www.learntogolf.ie