I just wanted to pay tribute to Keith Earls who finished up with rugby this past weekend after a career that saw him play 202 games for Munster and earn 101 caps for Ireland. He burst onto the scene in 2007 in Musgrave Park where he chipped the ball up to himself to score one of many famous tries in red.
He had lit the schools game up playing for St Munchins and winning a senior cup in 2006 before he was brought into the Munster academy system which was in its infancy at that stage. He has captained his country on last year’s tour of New Zealand.
His importance to both club and country has been seen over the past few months with the glowing terms in which his fellow players speak of him. He was the man for all positions in the early days playing wing, centre and full back. He debuted for Ireland in November 2008 in Thomond Park against Canada and he never looked back.
He also toured South Africa in 2009 with the British and Irish Lions, he was the youngest tourist on that tour. He was rather unfortunate not to get more of a look in on that tour but has always looked at that tour with great fondness.
As I say when you speak to people and see the respect that is there for Keith you realise what he meant to any team he was on. He of course had now well documented injury issues and in recent years he has opened up about the mental health issues he dealt with at times in his career in particular in the early period.
He was a nervous wreck for the most part and it was only in the latter years of his time with Ireland and Munster that he began to enjoy rugby and also he credits his family with helping him gain perspective in life as well as on the field of play.
He brought out a book a few years ago and I encourage anyone to go a find a copy and read it because it isn’t your usual sports biography and doesn’t go down the well-trodden path of many sports books. It goes into detail of his real life issues and he credits his family and his wife Edel with helping him to stay on the straight and narrow and not to go down a bad road that a few of his friends have done so.
He is a man that came through the hard way, yes he played schools rugby but he got his grounding with Thomond and Young Munster. Of course he Dad Ger wasn’t bad with an oval ball in hand playing for Munster on a famous day in 1992 in Cork when they defeated Australia. His Mam’s family were good sports people also so as they say “it wasn’t off the ground he licked it”.
He exited the stage in perfect fashion maybe a week or two earlier than hoped but he slipped away quietly that was the hall mark of his career, he worked hard, tackled anything that moved and finished the chances he was presented with !!
Thank You Keith, enjoy family life and being Dad to your girls and husband to Edel….