Having won silverware with Ireland and Leinster this season, Rob Kearney is now knuckling down to work in Johannesburg as he sets his sights on being part of a Test series-winning Lions team.
This rollercoaster of a season shows no sign of stopping just yet and for Rob Kearney, being part of a British & Irish Lions tour fulfils a boyhood dream.
Like many of Ireland’s current players the behind-the-scenes documentary of the 1997 Lions tour, ‘Living with Lions’, left an indelible mark on the Louth man.
His current room-mate in Johannesburg, Simon Shaw, will not want reminding of this fact but Kearney was just 11 years of age when the monster English lock toured South Africa in ’97.
Shaw arguably stole the show in ‘Living with Lions’, donning tight white trousers, a vest, neck scarf and a moustache to play the part of ‘Bruce’, a players’ court enforcer who assisted the curly-haired judge Keith Wood.
The court was cleverly used as a way for the players to unwind after some intensive training sessions handled by Jim Telfer and the 2009 tour coach Ian McGeechan.
Something similar will no doubt be played out over the coming weeks and Kearney, fully recovered from a recent bout of the mumps, is ready to play his part both on and off the pitch.
Writing in his Lions tour diary he said: “On a Lions tour it’s important that everybody makes a strong effort to get to know to know one another and already the slagging has started which is always a good sign.
“I’m really looking forward to playing with all the players, there are a lot of really good Welsh players and the cream of English and Scottish too. I’ve always admired the tour, a dream which I’m now living.
“Back in 1997 that famous behind-the-scenes video, ‘Living with Lions’, gave me a real insight into what goes on, so it’s a bit surreal being involved.
“I was fortunate enough to already have some experience down in South Africa having been involved with the Under-19 World Cup squad in Durban.
“I think a Lions tour has to be the pinnacle of any rugby player’s career. I found out about my call-up on Sky Sports, like a lot of players, and it’s great to have some many Irish players included.
“To have 14 Irish players in the initial squad is a sure sign of where Irish rugby is at the moment, and it’s a real testament to the level of coaching in the country.”
The Leinster and Leicester Tigers players who featured in last weekend’s Heineken Cup final will not be pressed into action for the Lions in their opening tour match against a Royal XV on Saturday.
That will afford Kearney and company some extra rest, and time to adapt to the ins and outs of camp after missing the training week in Surrey.
The Heineken Cup celebrations were cut short for the four Leinster players selected for the Lions, as an early Sunday morning flight to Heathrow sharpened minds after another memorable day for Irish rugby.
Giving his take on last Saturday’s win, Kearney said: “We were in a really tight game for the full 80 minutes and as you can imagine, the final whistle could not have come sooner. It has been a long time coming and I can safely say it is an incredible feeling to have been crowned champions of Europe.
“The support from the crowd was mind-blowing, and to see so many people in Edinburgh was overwhelming. Murrayfield really was a sea of blue, like nothing I could ever have imagined.
“The province has come a long way and for us this is the culmination of many years of hard work, blood, sweat and tears. A successful season thus far with hopefully more to come.
“I did get to celebrate a little, but had to drive my car home first and change luggage as we had the flight to Heathrow to join up with the Lions squad.
“One rollercoaster to the next, tough not getting to celebrate with the lads for a few days, but Lions duty takes over and I hope to get as much game-time as soon as possible.
“Needless to say I did manage a bit of celebrating prior to departure and had a good 11-hour sleep from Heathrow to Joburg, our first port of call.”
Having settled into camp in sunny Sandton, Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning full-back now has his full focus on winning a place in the Lions Test side and helping McGeechan’s men beat the World champion Springboks.
A confident Kearney added: “Everyone knows South African rugby is a force to be reckoned with. However, if we gel both on and off the field I know we are more than capable of success on this tour.
“The provincial games beforehand will give us a feel for what the games will be like as well as getting the opportunity to play with some of the greatest players in world rugby.
“Adding to that, Ian McGeechan is a great man to have in charge. He has that element of old school combined with new era of professionalism that is so important in the game.”