When Dave Kearney looks back on hisprofessional career, he will likely recall the current campaign as being his breakthrough year. The only question now is how much better a memorable season can become before it ends.
His 19 Leinster appearances, which included a first in the Heineken Cup, have more than doubled his previous haul and his international aspirations were heightened by a place on the bench for the Six Nations opener against Wales.
The late withdrawal of Keith Earls allowed Kearney move up the pecking order but the long-term neck injury afflicting Luke Fitzgerald has done much to open up a succession of doors.
Fitzgerald’s latest injury leaves another hole to be filled along the tramlines as Leinster zero in on a league and European Cup double and Kearney may see more action before the curtains are drawn.
“We won’t know anything until the team is picked,” he said of this week’s PRO12 semi-final.
“Obviously even with Luke gone there is still lots of competition for that spot. I’d love to be able to tell you the answer but you’ll have to ask Joe [Schmidt] on that one.”
Fitzgerald’s absence is an undoubted blow but the Leinster coach is well served with Isa Nacewa locking down one wing and Dave Kearney and Fergus McFadden the obvious contenders for the other slot.
Though a centre by trade, McFadden has demonstrated an aptitude for life along the sidelines since being parachuted in for the visit to Clermont Auvergne in last year’s Heineken Cup pool stages.
The smart money would be on the Old Belvedere man to do likewise against Glasgow Warriors for this Saturday’s play-off at the RDS but the younger Kearney also has versatility on his side.
Used at full-back against the Newport Gwent Dragons last weekend, he is typical of back three players in the modern era in that he can flit between the 11, 14 and 15 jerseys.
It’s a skill-set that can only appeal to Declan Kidney as he contemplates the squad to bring with him to New Zealand for a three-Test tour next month but, as Kearney points out, there remains some work to be done first.
This being Leinster, they will be expected to put the Warriors to the sword on home turf in two days’ time before switching to the bigger business of Ulster in London on Saturday week.
Such presumptuousness is an inevitable by-product of their success but Glasgow have proven to be difficult opponents on three of the four occasions the sides have played each other this season.
One of the province’s three league defeats came at Firhill last September and Kearney made his Heineken debut at the same ground in January when the reigning champions had a converted try to spare at the finish.
“They are a really strong side. We haven’t beaten them in the Rabo yet this year. We lost to them at home at the start of the year [19-23] and drew with them away [10-10]. They have got a lot of talent throughout the squad.
“Kellock, Gray, Weir, Dunbar, guys like that within the back line. We are obviously going to have to be aware.”
Too early to start talking about doubles then?
“That hasn’t been spoken about once.”
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