It was an emotional return for the Louth man who was keen to thank all involved in helping him on the lonely road to recovery and keeping his World Cup dream alive.
“I gave my jersey to Brian (Ireland physiotherapist Brian Green),” saidKearney after Saturday’s warm-up defeat to Scotland.
“He’s been fantastic over the last nine months. When you are out injured, you are out in the cold a little bit at times. You only have your rehabilitator to whinge down the phone to and give out to and throw your strops with. He was brilliant. Between him and Stephen Smith back at Leinster, who was myrehabilitator there, I was really lucky to have both of them. I couldn’t moreappreciate their work, their time andeffort. It (giving the jersey to Brian) was just a small gesture. But I just wanted him to know how much I appreciated it.”
Kearney, who joined Tomás O’Leary and Jerry Flannery on the comeback trail, revealed he was hugely anxious in the days leading up to the clash.
He said: “It’s a huge relief. I was nervous all week. I don’t usually get nerves beforehand. But it was nice to get over such a big obstacle. Obviously, the result wasn’t what we wanted but from a personal perspective it was nice to come through 80 minutes. I felt good at times, I was blowing at other times but all-in-all I was happy and pretty comfortable. I don’t know if I’m surprised by it or not because I’ve never been in a situation like this before.”
His months on the sidelines helped, he reckoned, to get him back to basics. “I tried to focus on not making mistakes. I have been in experiences before where you come back after an injury, or this and that, and you try and do the special thing or the magical thing.
“Instead on Saturday my main (focus) was just do the basics and just come through with as few errors as possible.
“I came into the game (with the attitude that) if I had a shocker, I wasn’tgoing to judge myself too harshly on it and if I had a stormer, I wasn’t going to lose the run of myself either.”
Kearney was also impressed by theperformance of Felix Jones who replaced Luke Fitzgerald on the hour.
He admitted: “When I saw Felix on the line at 60 I was, not happy to (think I might) be coming off, but I had sort of prepped, maybe foolishly, during the week for 60-70 minutes but I was happy to eventually come through the full 80.”
Jones understands he faces a tough challenge in making the plane to New Zealand given the talent at Declan Kidney’s disposal. He said:“It’s a very competitive squad with Rob and Geordan (Murphy) and Gav (Gavin Duffy) there.
“All you can do each time you get a chance is do your best, and hopefully get put in again at some stage.”
Another to earn his stripes on Saturday was Niall Ronan, who won his fourth cap.
“I wasn’t in the 43-man squad and I got called in; I got the chance to play for my country; what will happen after that, I don’t know. Declan will give everyone a chance and if you’re good enough you’ll play.”