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Kearney happy to answer critics and repay Schmidt

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Published 07/11/2016

Leading light: Rob Kearney dazzled after a difficult 18 months
Leading light: Rob Kearney dazzled after a difficult 18 months

Some players don't pay attention to the critics. Not Rob Kearney.

The Ireland full-back is aware that he isn't flavour of the month, that there is a vocal contingent who want his outstanding Test career to be over.

He knows his form hasn't been where it needs to be over the past injury-riddled 18 months and, if he was in any doubt, Joe Schmidt reminded him before kick-off at Soldier Field.

The New Zealander showed his faith in a player with whom he has been through a lot. He expected to be repaid and told him so.

The Louth man responded with perhaps his greatest attacking performance in a green jersey. Whether it rivalled his displays as a Lion in 2009 can be debated, but he rolled back the years with an all-round display.

"It's been a tough enough 18 months. Just, first and foremost, my body has not been where it has been," Kearney said. "Then on the back of that, you're not playing to your potential and people get on your case, you get on your own case.

"Inside my head has been a dark enough place in the last few months.

"I wasn't sure if I was going to be selected this week, and I'm just glad I was able to repay Joe and my fellow players the trust that has been shown.

"But there's still lots of stuff to work on, it wasn't a perfect performance by any means."

His belief was shaken, so how did he get it back?

"You don't, it's been tough," he said. "I tell you how I got my confidence back - it was one high ball and one line-break. I've been waiting for a spark, something like that, for so long and this week I just said, 'Don't wait, just go try and make something happen with the shackles free'.

"I've been in those moments before and things haven't gone your way. So I won't get carried away by any means, but it's nice to be back on the horse."

For 18 months, Kearney's hamstrings have kept him from reaching his potential. So, the No.15 shirt that's effectively been his own since 2008 has been shared by Simon Zebo, Jared Payne and Tiernan O'Halloran.

Plenty of armchair critics didn't want him to get it back, but the most important reviewer of all, Schmidt, kept faith.

"A huge amount of faith," Kearney said. "I was glad to be able to repay it. I'm sure he'll have things for me throughout the week - a few missed tackles and some coverage in the backfield, I might have got caught out once or twice.

"He pulled me aside before the game and he said, 'You need a big one today'. It wasn't ideal, but it was good."

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