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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Third Kearney is beginning to make an impression at the right part of Blues' season

Mike Kearney
Mike Kearney

A quick glance at the Leinster Rugby 'player pics' reveals the three Kearneys, Mick flanked Dave and Rob.

"I wouldn't get mistaken for them around here - two dreamboats walking around," laughed the second row.

"I definitely get the odd, 'are you related? Are you cousins?' That's it. Separated at birth!"

The man out of Mount Temple school was another outside the Leinster loop, grilled and groomed at Connacht over four seasons.

"It gave me the most valuable thing you can get as a rugby player, which is game-time," he said.

"It is irreplaceable. There's not much point just training. You really do need to be playing rugby week-in, week-out.

"If you set your own standard, it is fantastic to go to a place like that and get game time."

The transition from Eric Elwood to Pat Lam at Connacht is comparable to that of Michael Cheika to Joe Schmidt at Leinster.

"They are just very different in their coaching approach," said Kearney.

"Eric would have been very passionate. We would have shown that in our style of play.

"We were coming off games making well over 200 tackles. Maybe, when we had the ball, we weren't as accurate as we would have liked to be."

"Pat brings great attacking flair to the game, not taking away from what Eric brought. It's evident to see from how they've gone this season."

Lam and Schmidt are linked by more than the time spent at the Auckland Blues from 2004-2007.

When Kearney returned home last summer, he took one look at his old mentor Mike McCarthy and felt a kindred spirit. "I would have shaped my game to be very similar to his because he made such a massive impact."

While Kearney was laid low by injury for the front-end of this season, McCarthy was having one of his best to force his way back into Joe Schmidt's plans.

Then came that crunching concussion which ended McCarthy's season. Latterly, Kearney has been the one to benefit most, regaining fitness and form to start against Ulster.

The reward is a crack at Connacht in a novel PRO12 final. The 'story of the season' has not come as a shock to Kearney.

"They have had the structures in place for the last number of years that Pat's (Lam) been there.

"It was all down to execution," he noted.

"Even when I was there, we were losing games by a point or two points. We were finishing seasons with eight or nine losing bonus points.

"Obviously, Dave Ellis and Andre Bell are doing fantastic work during their skills blocks and it is carrying over into their performances."

There will be no sense of sentiment from as Kearney will be laser focused to keep Connacht in their place.

"Obviously, I have a lot of close friends in Galway, but I find you always play harder against close friends."

And even harder with the dreamboat brothers.

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