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Sunday 17 December 2017

Keogh keeps passing test

Limerick man continues to show desire to succeed as Blues rise to game's challenges

There comes a time when you look deep down and ask yourself about motivation and the desire to succeed.

For Stephen Keogh, the time is now. Same as it always has been.

The Limerick man has been in devastating form for the province over the course of the past four months, and the level of his general play has been of a particularly high standard.

Not that that should surprise you. The outstanding form of others in arguably one of the most competitive areas of the squad has curtailed the number of opportunities that he would have liked to have had at this stage, but in his appearances to date this season he has shown the hunger and enthusiasm which has endeared himself to the Leinster faithful.

Even though he turns 28 in May, it is fair to assume that his best years are ahead of him. And the Ireland 'A' wing forward is determined to take whatever opportunities come his way.

"I'm pretty pleased with my own recent form, but I still know there are areas of improvement," he said ahead of the visit of Connacht to the RDS tomorrow afternoon.

"It can be a difficult time of the calendar when you're down numbers, as we were, because of players either involved in the Six Nations or with the Ireland under-20s. We have a big game against Connacht coming up this weekend and we will need to be right on the money because these games are always tough. And they're always keenly contested.

"Connacht have really improved over the past few months and they, like ourselves, have a European quarter-final to look forward to. They beat a good Dragons side last week and their pack is strong and competitive. I'm sure that they'll also be determined to build on that this week and finish the year on a high for Michael Bradley."

On the future, he has been impressed with the up-and-coming talent who have stepped into the breach and believes that the future of the game in the province is bright.

"It was good to win our last three games over the Six Nations period, and it was especially pleasing to win against Glasgow last weekend because we had four Academy players on the pitch at the end of the game.

"That can only be a good thing for Leinster because, not only are these players stepping up, they're making a big impression.

"If you look at the likes of Paul Ryan and Andrew Conway in recent weeks, they have stepped up for games and have taken their chances. That's the kind of environment you want to be a part of: young fellas taking their chances and keeping the pressure on in training.

"Throw in playing alongside experienced guys like Girvan (Dempsey) and Mal (O'Kelly), and it's the perfect grounding for them. It also helps when you're winning too, but the important thing is that these players aren't fazed."

So, in a sense, Keogh believes that tomorrow's game will resort to a type of unofficial trial for the Ireland players on show.

"Absolutely," he maintains before adding a caution, "but when you're playing in a squad as competitive as ours is, then every match and every training session is a trial.

"We will have to sharpen up the areas that we weren't as strong on last week because if we don't then Connacht will punish any mistakes we make.

"The margins (for error) are so slim these days because of the competitiveness of the Magners League that there are a lot of sides who can still qualify for the top four. That's why it's definitely one of the best leagues in Europe at the moment, because lots of teams can still make the grand final."

Given the nature of fiery local derbies, Keogh is expecting nothing but a stiff examination of Leinster's credentials by a Connacht side that boasts a degree of familiarity in their ranks.

"I'm sure that the likes of Fionn Carr, Jamie Hagan and Ian Keatley will be motivated to come home having come through the Leinster Academy, while I was also in college with Frank Murphy, so I'm sure there will be a few words on Saturday!

"Because of the fact that you're playing your near rivals and, in a lot of cases, your friends, you want to do well. It's up to every player to take opportunities like this. It's an important game for our supporters as well as for the team so we're determined to win, without a doubt.

"It will be another test of the quality of our strength in depth this season and we know that we have to bring a real intensity from the off and match their physicality."

In truth, it seems to be a mantra he lives by -- and one he also sticks by.

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