Irish rugby great Rob Kearney says he lived the dream of “every five-year-old” as he announced his retirement from Leinster and the national side on Thursday.
The 34-year-old is the most successful player from his province and country in terms of trophies including four European Cups and four Six Nations, two of those Grand Slams.
The rampaging full-back — capped 95 times by his country and played three Tests for the British and Irish Lions — also played in the Joe Schmidt-coached Ireland sides that recorded historic victories over New Zealand (November 2016, November 2018).
However, Kearney decided to hang up his boots — at least with his province and country as he is strongly linked with a move to Super Rugby franchise Western Force — after losing to Saracens in last weekend’s European Champions Cup quarter-final.
“I have lived the dream of every five-year-old boy or girl out there that dreams of pulling on a Leinster jersey, an Ireland jersey, a Lions jersey,” Kearney said on the Leinster website.
Kearney, who would have eased past a century of caps but for several injuries, said playing is like an addiction.
“You always want one more as a player. The next one becomes the most important,” he said.
“The next match, the next trophy, the next training session even. That is the process, that is the drive within us.
“It wasn’t to be, but I am so very grateful for every run out that I did get in a Leinster and an Ireland jersey.”
Kearney said the fans had given him so many great memories but two especially remained etched in his mind.
“For Ireland, the sea of green in Chicago (when they beat the All Blacks in 2016) and in Twickenham on St. Patrick’s Day for our Grand Slam decider (2018) are images that will be ingrained in me for life,” he said.
Kearney praised coaches such as Michael Cheika — who gave him his first Leinster start — but his last word was for his younger brother Dave, who is a Leinster stalwart and also played for Ireland.
“To Dave…..You have made the last 11 years all the better for having you by my side every day and I’ll miss that the most.”