Concrete plans put aside as Kearney seizes Ulster chance

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Co-member of the United Rugby Championship, Ulster, with a long list of injuries, had to rely heavily on the depth of his team to earn his three bonus points.

When the news of Leone Nakarawa’s transfer failed in June, fans across the province may have let their heads down, but after a clean start to the season and the arrival of Duane Vermeulen things are looking up.

For Mick Kearney, the former Connacht, Leinster and Zebra Parma striker, Ulster’s need for strengthening meant another big-time blow.

He had made 32 appearances in two seasons for the Italians, but by the end of that contract the 30-year-old had seriously considered doing so.

This is not a rare story in the professional ranks, nothing lasts forever and players always talk about being prepared for “life after rugby”.

Then a call from former Connacht assistant coach Dan McFarland, now Ulster boss, persuaded him to move north on a short-term contract.

So how close has the Dubliner been to swapping one pair of boots for another, namely a good size 12 pair?

Legend

“When I came back from Italy I had fallen in love with the game a bit,” Lock said.

“I just didn’t like him, but I always knew that if I could step in the door in a good environment, I would really like him again.

“I came home and said I was going to stay in shape and basically set a date by the end of September so that if nothing had happened at the clubs I would be really excited at the thought of going there, so I was just going to move on, you know, get away from rugby and do something else.

“I had worked with Dan at Connacht almost 10 years ago now.

“The misfortune of some is the luck of others.

“I wasn’t 100% sure what to do [had the call not come]. “

No concrete plans then?

“My family runs a construction supplier called Celuplast and there is a side called Guardian Building Products that does roofing and extensions, so I was looking at that side of the business.

“I was going to roll up my sleeves. I would much rather have a hands-on approach than be behind a desk.

“I was putting together a small team in mid-September; these are currently residential housing extensions.

“You can expand up to 40 square meters, keeping 25% of your garden and without needing a building permit, which is such a huge thing.

“So I was looking for a good builder and luckily a call was made.”

Legend

You could argue that the building blocks are here for when Kearney, who made 47 appearances at Leinster between 2015 and 2019, decides to end his playing days.

But, having featured in all of Ulster’s game so far, he’s determined to keep the dream alive. The next stop will be the Emirates Lions on Friday evening.

“Every game is a test and a chance to impress,” said Kearney, who revealed that a conversation with former Munster, Leinster and Ulster forward Ian Nagle meant the decision to take the step was “obvious”.

“If you don’t go out and play, that’ll be all, a try and nothing more.

“If you watch Hard Knocks, the NFL documentary, where they can make noise at the door any day and you could be gone.

Legend

“I tried to have a pretty similar mindset throughout this whole experience and the pressure made it very pleasant as well.

“I settled in very well, it was very pleasant to come back to an Irish configuration was really pleasant.

“Italy was a brilliant experience from a rugby and lifestyle perspective and a cultural perspective, but I guess I’m back among the Irish guys and Irish craic.

“On the other hand, there is the intensity and ambition of the current environment and it’s just fantastic to be a part of it.”

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Follow Munster v Connacht (Saturday 7:35 PM) via our live blog on RTÉ.ie / sport or the RTÉ News app, or watch live on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player. Watch Ulster v Lions (Friday 7:35 PM) on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player.

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