By Damian Dolan.
Ireland’s heartbreaking defeat to New Zealand, Brian O’Driscoll’s fond farewell and a Six Nations championship, Michael Kearney had a ring-side seat through it all.
As Joe Schmidt’s right hand man, Kearney’s place throughout the highs and lows of the past six months was on the sideline – Schmidt’s eyes and ears on the ground – culminating in that glorious Parisian night when a first title since 2009 was sealed.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Ireland if there wasn’t late drama, only this time they were not to be denied, despite France winning a scrum against the head deep in Irish territory in the final moments with the Irish pack creaking. For a moment it seemed that O’Driscoll’s farewell would not have the happy ending we all craved it. The final whistle was greeted as much by relief.
“It was an extraordinary emotional release at the end of it all,” said Kearney. “I know [referee] Steve Walsh got a little bit of a jitter in his hand where he looked as if he was going to put it out for a penalty, and then the ball shot out [of the scrum].
“It was the All Blacks match all over again. We all had our hearts in our mouths for the last two minutes – it just turned out with a different result. It’s funny, the really fine margins.
“I felt that we deserved it; we won more rucks than any other team, we passed the ball more than any other team, gave away fewer penalties and we scored more tries.”
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