Leinster's loss to Saracens in the Pro 14 quarterfinal last night in the Aviva brought the curtains down on one of the greatest careers in recent Irish sport. Rob Kearney's career as a professional rugby player is now over. Kearney last featured in a Leinster team in the province's win against Ulster on 29 August. He and fellow retiree Fergus McFadden lifted the Pro 14 cup last weekend in tracksuits, and Kearney's great career ended in the least sentimental way possible last night, as he was outside the Leinster 23-man squad that were beaten by Saracens.
One of the many small cruelties of sport during lockdown is that retiring players have no formal way to say goodbye to fans, and fans cannot return the favour. In the very least, Kearney deserved a lap of honour at a packed RDS. Given his incredible service to Ireland and Leinster in three different decades and the standing in which he is held by his teammates and Irish sports fans, Kearney could argue for far more than that.
Kearney retires as one of the most decorated Irish sportsmen of all time. Sinead Kissane of Virgin Media itemised his medal haul on Twitter last night and it is hard to imagine any Irish rugby player ever nearing his silverware tally.
Today’s defeat ends the Leinster career of the most decorated player in the history of Irish rugby
2 Grand Slams
4 Six Nations
4 Heineken Cup medals
1 Challenge cup
With 95 Ireland caps, 219 Leinster caps, 2 Lions tours
— Sinéad Kissane (@sineadkissane) September 19, 2020
Kearney retires as the only man to start in two Grand Slam winning matches for Ireland. He made immense contributions to both of those Grand Slam winning campaigns. As for individual highlights, he converted one of the greatest dropgoals we've ever seen.
Wishing this exquisite Rob Kearney drop goal a very happy 8th birthdaypic.twitter.com/GxTHVh2aC9
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) April 29, 2020
We've never seen anyone run faster in the Aviva than Kearney when he sprinted up the sideline towards the Bath Avenue end of the stadium against the All Blacks in 2013.
If the effort was ultimately in vain, Kearney played one of his best games for Ireland in Chicago three years later as Ireland finally beat New Zealand. Kearney also started in the 15 shirt in Ireland's win over the All Blacks in the Aviva in 2018.
Kearney also brought massive leadership abilities to the dressing room, and his contribution at the famous Enfield meeting between Ireland's Leinster and Munster factions has always been seen as pivotal in bridging the differences between the two provinces.
Despite stiff company, Kearney can retire confident in the fact that he was Ireland's greatest fullback.