As Kearney prepares for his first game in a month, following a bout of mumps, Paul O’Connell will lead Munster into battle against Ospreys at Thomond Park tomorrow night (7.45pm) on what is bound to be an emotional occasion.
The Munster squad includes four of O’Connell’s Lions colleagues: Ronan O’Gara, Keith Earls, Donncha O’Callaghan and David Wallace, who fly to London on Monday to join up with the touring party.
On a night when Munster will be presented with the Magners League trophy, the two longest serving players, Anthony Horgan and Frankie Sheahan, as well as Mike Prendergast, Kieran Lewis, Federico Pucciariello, John O’Sullivan and Michael Essex will be making their last appearance.
Horgan, Sheahan and Pucciariello in particular, are likely to get a rousing send-off. The latest news on Sheahan is that he is on the verge of signing up for a move to Brive on a one-year contract, with an option on a second.
As Leinster make final preparations for the Heineken Cup final, Kearney has to battle with Isa Nacewa for the right to wear the number 15 jersey in the European showpiece against Leicester Tigers at Murrayfield on Saturday week. Kearney’s illness allowed Nacewa into the team for the Heineken Cup semi-final against Munster. The Kiwi played a key role in that stirring 25-6 victory by creating a marvellous first half try for Gordon D’Arcy, and the performance has led to a dilemma for Michael Cheika.
So, Kearney now has to produce a five-star performance, easier said than done against a Dragons side fighting to avoid a play-off with an Italian side for entry to Europe next season.
Nacewa has been used right across the back line by Leinster this season, and he was impressive in his stand-in role against Munster.
In advance of the European final, Cheika has left nothing to chance and wrapped most of his stars in cotton wool.
However, Leinster will field some experienced personnel, amongst them Girvan Dempsey and Trevor Hogan, who will be in action with Sean O’Brien, Stephen Keogh, Devin Toner, Ronan McCormack and John Fogarty.
Yet, a number of the 24 players yesterday named in the squad would be short on experience. For Clontarf scrum half Paul O’Donohue, who lost out with his club in last week’s AIB League decider against Shannon, it is a chance to move on.
Assistant coach Alan Gaffney accepted that the squad may be short of experience but insisted that the team would be mixed in the best way possible. He insisted the Academy players (nine in the squad) would not be expected to carry the can at Rodney Parade.
He was also adamant Leinster would have to be in the right frame of mind to compete with the Dragons.
“They are fighting for position in the Magners League and they will make it difficult for us. We will have to go there with the right attitude; it’s going to be a battle, and we believe they have been saving a lot of their front-line players for this game. It will be hard, no doubt,” he said.
Matt Williams has named a 25-man squad for Ulster’s last game of the season against Llanelli Scarlets on Saturday.
Williams, conscious that Llanelli have been overwhelmed with fixtures these last couple of weeks, hopes his side can finish on a high with a strong team likely to take the field.
Munster (from): D Howlett; B Murphy; K Earls; I Dowling; L Mafi; K Lewis; A Horgan; P Warwick; R O’Gara; P Stringer; M Prendergast; F Pucciariello; Dave Ryan; D Fogarty; M Essex; F Sheahan; T Buckley; M O’Driscoll; J O’Sullivan; D O’Callaghan; P O’Connell, captain; Donnacha Ryan; D Wallace; N Ronan; D Leamy.
OSPREYS (from): G. Owen, D. Bishop, D. Evans, S. Parker, J. Spratt, J. Hook, A. Beck, D. Biggar, J. Nutbrown, R. Wells, P. James, D. Jones, C. Griffiths, C. Mitchell, R. Hibbard, S. Baldwin, I. Gough, A. Lloyd, R. Kelly, S. Tandy, M. Holah, F. Tiatia, R. Jones.
ULSTER squad: Forwards – R Best, B Botha, N Brady, R Caldwell, R Diack, N Hanna, C Del Fava, W Faloon, D Fitzpatrick, J Fitzpatrick, S Ferris, C Henry, M McCullough, E O’Donoghue, B Young.
Backs: I Boss, D Cave, S Danielli , I Humphreys, M McCrea, T Nagusa, N O’Connor, C Schifcofske, I Whitten, C Willis.
LEINSTER squad: Forwards (13) – R McCormack, B Blaney, J Fogarty, J Harris-Wright, J Hagan, S Knoop, T Hogan, D Toner, C Jowitt, K McLaughlin, P Ryan, S O’Brien, S Keogh
Backs (11): C Keane, P O’Donohoe, I Madigan, I McKinley, R Kearney, F McFadden, K Tonetti, S Keogh, N Morris, D Kearney, G Dempsey
Referee: G Knox (SRU)