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My Zebre team-mates are at coalface and anxiety is sky high: Kearney



Doing his bit: Mick Kearney is glad to be isolating at home

Doing his bit: Mick Kearney is glad to be isolating at home

�INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Doing his bit: Mick Kearney is glad to be isolating at home

Mick Kearney has spent the last two weeks self-isolating - not because he was forced to, but rather he knew it was the right thing to do.

That the former Leinster and Connacht lock was able to do so from the comfort of his own house in Dublin, rather than his new home in northern Italy, was a welcome relief, while he also had company in the shape of his Zebre team-mate Ian Nagle.

The Irish pair have been a real driving force at the Italian club under Michael Bradley this season, but like everyone else their lives have been put on hold due to Covid-19.

Italy is on lockdown and while the images coming out of the country have sent shockwaves around the world, some people closer to home are still not understanding the great importance of social distancing.

Kearney is in regular contact with his team-mates back in Parma, where Zebre are based, so he has a deep understanding of the devastating consequences of the coronavirus.

"When myself and 'Nages' (Ian Nagle) left Italy, there were actually no confirmed cases in Parma," Kearney explained.

"As soon as I got back to Dublin on March 7, I rang the public health nurse and told her about what my plan was in terms of going into self-isolation.

"She asked me if I had symptoms. I said I didn't, so she said, 'Okay, well you are obviously being very diligent going into self-isolation not having any symptoms, but if you show any symptoms in the coming days, then we need you to go into self-isolation for 14 days'.

"It was pure precaution. Even if we were speaking to friends or family saying we would meet up for a coffee, there obviously would be that little bit of hesitation because it had been less than two weeks since we were in Northern Italy.

"We wanted to avoid putting anyone into awkward situations, so we decided it was best to play it ultra safe."

Kearney and Nagle, who played together during their time at Leinster, have formed a strong second-row partnership at Zebre, which has helped Bradley's men have the joint-second strongest lineout in the PRO14.

We joke that being cooped up with the Cork man for the last fortnight will either push the Zebre lineout on again or end up in the pair being sick of the sight of each other.

"I don't know if I would call it a novelty, but I suppose you could say the unusual experience of it wore off after a couple of days," Kearney laughed.

"Thankfully I have a bit of a back garden space here, so it has given us an opportunity to get out and do a couple of body weight circuits.

"Outside of that, it's just been watching Netflix, cooking, reading up on the coronavirus and keeping in touch with our team-mates in Italy as well.

"However, we are feeling at the moment in terms of being in self-isolation, thankfully, touch wood, none of our families have been affected by it yet.

"There are a couple of guys in Italy who are right at the coalface. The anxiety is sky high at the minute."

The Zebre players in Parma are doing anything they can to help. Take Maxime Mbanda for example. The Italy flanker has been volunteering as an emergency ambulance driver to help those in need.

Rugby has very much been put on the back burner for the foreseeable future.

"There is very, very little chat about rugby, to be honest," Kearney admitted.

"Michael Bradley and the coaches sent out an exercise. We analysed the Crusaders versus the Reds game last week, just to keep our minds ticking over from a rugby point of view. They really emphasised that you were only to do this exercise if your situation allows it.

"The main chat in the group is how we can help each other out. If anyone is in a bind or family members can't get out to get food because they are also in self-isolation, just finding ways to support each other as a group really.

"There is only one player in the squad actually from Parma, it's a matter of everyone from different backgrounds coming together to support each other through this chaotic time.

"Rugby is the furthest thing from our thoughts. This situation really puts things into perspective."

Kearney, who is in his first season with Zebre since ending his four-year stay with Leinster following a successful four-year stint with Connacht, is contracted to the Italian club for next season, but he does hope to eventually finish his career in Ireland.

It has been another difficult campaign for Bradley's side, who have won just two league games, but Kearney believes there is good work going on at the club.

"It has crossed my mind once or twice that I would love to finish my career in Ireland," the 28-year old added.

"The idea of coming back and helping the next generation from a mentoring point of view is something that would really appeal.

"If that opportunity arose, I would grab it with both hands. But at the same time, if it doesn't, I've no regrets about my time playing in Ireland.

"Looking back, I am delighted I made the decision I did. I had a brilliant four years in Leinster and I wouldn't give them back for the world.

"Don't get me wrong, results haven't gone our way in a lot of games, but there have been real improvements thanks to guys who've been brought in.

"The set-piece has made a pretty big U-turn since 'Nages' came in. He is an excellent lineout operator and really is the brains of that operation. I'd be more of a donkey!

"Hopefully things cool off in the next few months or weeks and we do get a chance to go back to Italy."

Belfast Telegraph