Signing off from Irish Rugby as the nation’s most decorated player earlier in September, Rob Kearney certainly left his mark in 95 Tests wearing the famous green jersey.
The 34-year-old called it a day after the delayed finish to the 2019/20 season, having played a significant role in one of the most successful periods in his country’s history.
Indeed, the full-back was part of four Six Nations-winning squads during a 12-year international career, including two memorable Grand Slam titles in 2009 and 2018.
Besides making 48 Championship appearances, Kearney demonstrated his class in three Rugby World Cups, and was part of two British & Irish Lions tours in 2009 and 2013.
In addition to his international success, Kearney also won four Champions Cups with Leinster, a Challenge Cup and six Guinness PRO14 titles – lifting the trophy with Fergus McFadden when the Dubliners retained the title against Ulster at the Aviva Stadium this year.
With fearless skills under the high ball and deft attacking prowess, Kearney’s impact didn’t go unnoticed. While he was crowned European Rugby Player of the Year in 2012, some of rugby’s biggest names delivered tributes to his achievements as he bade farewell to his playing days.
Brian O’Driscoll – a former teammate of Kearney at both provincial and international level – said: “What a Leinster and Irish career this guy has had. He always produced and was there for all the big days in the past 15 years.
“He was a rock at the back and that was the foundation for so much of the success. Rob was a big game player, a brilliant pro and a really great friend.”
Undoubtedly one of the best players to have represented the Emerald Isle, does Kearney make your XV?
ROAD TO SUCCESS
Born in County Louth into a family with a background in farming, Kearney was a talented Gaelic footballer in his youth and featured in the 2004 Louth Senior Championship final for Cooley Kickhams as a teenager.
By that time, he was already well on his way towards the Leinster and Ireland rugby squads, and he made his Celtic League debut a year later, before being called into the Irish training setup for the 2005 Autumn Internationals.
Kearney made his Test debut on the wing in a 16-0 defeat to Argentina in Buenos Aires in 2007, before playing a pivotal role in the 2008 Six Nations, during which he appeared in all five rounds as Ireland finished fourth.
Success wasn’t far away however, as Kearney started all five matches in the following year’s Grand Slam-winning campaign – Ireland’s first since 1948. Lions recognition followed, with the then 23-year-old having also helped Leinster to their maiden European Champions Cup title that season.
MAKING HIS MARK
Having featured in all three Tests as the Lions were defeated 2-1 on their tour of South Africa, Kearney made his World Cup bow in 2011, recovering from injury to make four appearances as Ireland reached the quarter-finals.
After missing that year’s Champions Cup final through injury, Kearney returned to the competition with a vengeance the following season, duly being crowned European Player of the Year for 2012 after notching six tries in nine games to help Leinster lift the cup for a third time.
Another call-up to the Lions ranks followed a year later – although he ultimately didn’t add to his Test tally – while Kearney’s next dose of international silverware came in the Championship in 2014.
Tries against Scotland and England helped Ireland earn their first Six Nations title in five years, and Joe Schmidt’s men made it back-to-back successes in 2015, with Kearney again an integral piece of the jigsaw.
GRAND SLAM GLORY
Another run to the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals followed that Autumn, and as Kearney continued to contribute to his teams’ efforts both domestically and at international level, 2018 bore fruit on several fronts.
An ever-present figure as Ireland claimed the Grand Slam in the spring, Kearney went on to lift the Champions Cup and PRO14 trophies with Leinster, before a landmark victory with the national team in the summer.
Having been part of the squad that claimed Ireland’s first success over New Zealand at the 29th attempt in 2016, Kearney was in the starting XV that claimed a first series victory in Australia for 39 years two years later.
After that, Kearney played three games in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations campaign and got his last international cap at his third World Cup, before signing off in style as part of the 2019/20 Leinster side who picked up their third consecutive PRO14 title.