Mick Kearney has had an eventful rugby career, representing his country at Under-20 level before turning professional and playing for three Irish provinces, along with a stint in Italy with Zebre.
The 32-year-old Dubliner, who plays in the second row or at flanker, is set to hang up his boots on Sunday. There is nothing he wants to do more than to finish on a high by winning another Energia All-Ireland League title with Clontarf, his boyhood club.
“Sunday is going to be my last game. I’m going to be on the pitch with some guys I played my very first game with,” he told IrishRugby.ie.
“We’ve made some unbelievable memories along the way. To get to go out there and represent the club and to do it with some of my best mates, it’s a really special and something I’m personally really looking forward to.”
Kearney returned to Castle Avenue towards the back end of last season, before announcing his retirement from professional rugby in the summer. He said he wanted to finish his career with ‘Tarf, a club that has given him so much support over the years.
“I said I’d give it one more year with the club. I suppose it’s as much to repay them for all the support that they have given me throughout my professional career, and then also to sign off with some of my really good mates.
“I’ve loved it. It’s been an incredible year, an unbelievable experience and something that I’d put against any of the experiences I had as a pro.
“I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to become a professional if I didn’t have the club. Like I said, to be able to go out there and represent them is a big honour for me.”
As many people know, Clontarf is a strong community club filled with some great characters on and off the field. Playing with his friends and immersing himself back into the club culture has created memorable moments for Kearney in his last season.
“Spending time with the lads, spending time with this group, going into the bar after games and mixing it with some of the alickadoos I’ve known for the last 20 years.
“It’s also been great seeing all the minis involved and coming up through the club who will hopefully aspire to play in big occasions like Sunday in the future.”
Like Clontarf, their Division 1A final opponents, Terenure College, are another club where the community are central to everything good they are trying to achieve. They have put in a lot of effort over the last few years and are very much a club on the rise.
Kearney commended all the hard work going on over at Lakelands Park, acknowledging: “I think this weekend it’s two great community clubs going head-to-head.
“You look at the crowds Terenure have gotten this year, you look at some of the stuff they’re doing for their club. It’s fantastic, it’s great for the AIL.”
Andy Wood’s men come into the Aviva Stadium decider after a titanic semi-final battle with Young Munster which ended in a extremely hard-fought 13-12 win. Kearney believes they will have to improve if they are going to win at the weekend.
“It was very much a cup game, it had that feel to it. We probably didn’t perform as well as we would have liked. The game could have definitely gone either way and we were lucky to come out the right side of it.”
He knows Sean Skehan’s charges will be trying their utmost to avenge last season’s final defeat and lift the Division 1A trophy for the first time in Terenure’s history.
“Every game against Terenure is difficult, they’re a quality side. I’m sure they took loads of learnings from the final last year, much like we did. We’re just hoping on Sunday that those lessons will stand us in good stead.”
Clontarf have become a powerhouse of Irish club rugby over an extended period, winning three All-Ireland League titles in nine years.
They have an abundance of talent mixed with a dominant forward pack. The likes of Ivan Soroka, top try scorer Dylan Donnellan and Tony Ryan are key to that power game, with talismanic captain Matt D’Arcy at the heart of a skilful back-line.
Some people reckon ‘Tarf will have the edge in the physicality stakes in the final, but Kearney thinks Terenure’s well-drilled forwards should not be underestimated either, and that it is not just their backs that pose a threat.
“I actually don’t think Terenure’s pack get the credit they deserve, particularly from a mauling point of view. They are an excellent mauling team.
“In my opinion the only reason some of the Terenure backs get so many opportunities out wide is because the forwards are dishing it up to them on a plate,” he said, praising their efforts to create that front-foot ball that works so well for them.
He is very aware that they will not be able to keep the ball away from the ‘Nure dangermen for the entire game. His team will have to trust in the defensive systems that they have in place to deal with the pressure.
Clontarf’s head coach Andy Wood has been a brilliant servant both to the All-Ireland League and the club itself. The New Zealander has been involved in each of their league triumphs to date – 2014, 2016 and 2022.
His wisdom and influence on this successful group does not go unnoticed, with Kearney explaining: “Woody is massive. He has that experience of being involved in every AIL that Clontarf have won.
“He’s kind of seen it all. He’s great at reading the mood of the group, in terms of if things are a little bit flat or a little too hyped.
“He’s got the perfect balance of knowing when to give lads a kick on or when to wrap the arm around them. He’s been a key figure to our success in the last few years.”
‘Tarf’s focus is fully on the task at hand, and the ideal outcome for Kearney on Sunday would be to sign off as a back-to-back AIL winner. “I just hope that both teams put in their best performance and we pick up the pieces after that,” he added.