Belfast Telegraph

Tough upbringing in Limerick made me man I am today, reveals Earls

Standing tall: Keith Earls is proud of where he comes from
Standing tall: Keith Earls is proud of where he comes from

By Cian Tracey

Keith Earls puffs out his cheeks and smiles. "Being from Limerick means everything to me."

Rugby round up Newsletter

Game previews, plus expert insights and exclusive commentary from the Belfast Telegraph sports team.

He doesn't need time to think about the question because his sense of identity is so firmly etched from his humble beginnings that his response rolls off the tongue.

Earls has never forgotten where he comes from and having recently turned 32, he has had time to reflect on his journey that could so easily have led him down a much darker path.

Growing up in Moyross, a tough neighbourhood on the north side of the city, had its fair share of ups and downs, yet such was the role it played in making him the man he is today, Earls wouldn't swap his upbringing for anyone else's.

To understand why he is, and has always been, so proud of his roots, it is important to provide some context to what his early life in Moyross was like.

The gangland feud in Limerick was rife and all around him Earls was witnessing the devastating effects of the violence.

Earls counts himself lucky that his parents Sandra and Ger, a respected former rugby player, kept him out of harm's way.

Then there was rugby, which provided him with a chance to escape. It was for that reason Earls had 'Moyross' stitched into his boots when he first broke onto the international stage.

"Moyross was constantly in the papers for bad stuff - it was to remember where I come from and the people who helped me," Earls recalled ahead of today's European Champions Cup clash against Racing 92. "I had a normal upbringing. There were a small group of people who did what they did.

"I've seen crazy things, but I'll probably keep it for a book or maybe never put it out there.

"I hung around with some fellas who were my best friends, who are now in prison. I was mature when I was 12. I knew what was right and wrong and what I didn't want to bring to my parents' front door and what I didn't want to bring on myself."

That fork in the road came earlier in Earls' life than most as he watched some of those closest to him veer out of control. Even now, he shudders at the thought of what might have been.

Becoming that mature at such a young age is largely down to his father.

Ger, an outstanding flanker in his day, would remind his son about the important things in life, which blossomed a special relationship between the pair.

"My old man was well respected around the city through rugby," said Earls. "He reared me with good morals. I have a lot to thank him for. He was only just 20 when he had me, so as I got older we were kind of like friends or like brothers.

"He always put me first and it's the same now with my little sister (Jenny). She's only 12, so there's a big gap between us. There is only two of us. She's like a sister to my daughters now."

Earls and his wife Edel have three daughters Ella-Maye (seven), Laurie (four) and Emie (one). He likes to think that his parents' approach has rubbed off on him.

Three years ago, Earls very nearly gave it all up when he came "quite close" to joining Saracens as he thought the move would benefit his family. Looking back on his decision to stay in Limerick, he is in no doubt that it was the right one.

Nowadays, the 82-times-capped winger is conscious of giving as much as possible back to the Moyross community.

With three children, it's not always easy, but Earls understands the importance of making time for those less fortunate.

"I just got a text there this morning from the principal in Corpus Christi (primary school).

"There is still some unbelievable sporting talents out in Corpus Christi and Thomond College. It's just giving them the same chance as I had.

"I want to show the kids that I grew up in this environment as well and if you have your head screwed on and you want to achieve things in life, and I know it's cheesy, but you can if you put your mind to it."

Suddenly, it becomes clearer why being from Limerick means so much to one of the Treaty City's proudest sons.

Without ever setting out to do so, Keith Earls has become a beacon of hope for the people of Moyross, and for that, he will forever be respected in the place he still calls home.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph