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Ian has no regrets

12 years after leaving Leinster, Keatley is content that he made the right decision

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28 September 2019; Ian Keatley of Benetton during the Guinness PRO14 Round 1 match between Benetton and Leinster at Stadio Monigo in Treviso, Italy. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

28 September 2019; Ian Keatley of Benetton during the Guinness PRO14 Round 1 match between Benetton and Leinster at Stadio Monigo in Treviso, Italy. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

28 September 2019; Ian Keatley of Benetton during the Guinness PRO14 Round 1 match between Benetton and Leinster at Stadio Monigo in Treviso, Italy. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

A while back, Ian Keatley bumped into Felix Jones and the pair reminisced about their time in Leinster, and agreed that although it didn't work for either of them, the experience provided the foundations on which their rugby knowledge is now based.

Both players came through the academy together before ending up at Munster, with Jones' single Leinster appearance one more than what Keatley managed.

For Keatley, there was an option to extend his stay in the academy for a third year, but ultimately when Connacht came calling with the offer of a professional contract, it was too good to turn down.

He had already seen Fionn Carr complete his three years with Leinster before being let go, while a certain Seán O'Brien was kept on for a third year rather than promoted to a senior deal.

Countless

Keatley spent countless hours doing extra kicking sessions as he looked to make ground on the senior out-halves - Felipe Contepomi, Christian Warner and Johnny Sexton, who was only two years older than him.

Keatley knew he would face a tough task to break through and that got even more difficult when the club told him that they had signed Isa Nacewa for the following season.

The logjam was rapidly forming and Keatley knew it.

12 years on, the Dubliner can relate to situation that the likes of Harry Byrne and Ciarán Frawley currently find themselves in as Leinster's out-half stocks continue to rise, and other provinces closely monitor the situations of their young talents.

"I got offered a full-time contract with Connacht after I had worked with Dan McFarland and Eric Elwood with the Ireland U-20s when we won the Grand Slam," Keatley says, recalling his predicament.

"It was obviously such a tough decision because Leinster were going places. They were such a great team. Listen, I would love to have played with Leinster because that is where I grew up, going to Donnybrook on a Friday night.

"I'm disappointed I never got to play for Leinster but I never regretted any decision I made because I knew at that particular time in my life, it was the right thing to do.

"I don't beat myself up about it though because even when I was in Connacht, I had an opportunity to come back to Leinster.

"I weighed it up between Leinster and Munster, and once again it was a calculated decision. I knew Ronan (O'Gara) was towards the later half of his career while Johnny was only two years ahead of me.

Pushed

"Johnny had pushed himself into number one at Leinster. Career wise, if I was going to get more game time and experience, that's why I chose Munster in the end."

Keatley will come up against old friends today as his Benetton side look to derail Leinster's perfect season. The team he faces and, indeed, the overall set-up however, is very different to the one he left in 2008.

Keatley is content with his new life in Italy following a short stint with London Irish last year. He recently married his long-term partner Lisa, and the couple's two-year old daughter Beth is getting to experience life outside of Ireland too.

On the pitch, Benetton have been showing signs of improvement, which Keatley has helped drive.

He has come a long way since leaving Leinster all those years ago.

"The people here in Treviso are just so positive," Keatley adds.

"They have a great way of living. I am getting to experience a new culture, a new language, a new lifestyle.

"I'm 32 now, maybe it was a good time for me to do it. Maybe it's not a good thing for a young player who has aspects of playing for Ireland.

"But when you get to a stage in your career where you have given your all for Ireland and Munster, which I have, I realised it was time to do something for Ian and Ian's family.

"Luckily, this is my 12th season. Hopefully I have another one next year. I know how blessed I am to be able to play for 13 seasons.

"I played for my country, played for Munster in some of the biggest games, to be able to play in England and then move over to Italy, it's a cool story to tell."