THEN: Aidan Kearney made 26 appearances for Leinster Rugby across the 2002/03 and 2003/04 seasons.

NOW: He is currently looking for a new job in rugby, living in Bayside, married to Jenna with three children Ryan, Max and Lola.

Aidan Kearney was something of a physical phenom back in the late 1990s.

He moved from St Paul’s College in Raheny to St Michael’s College for the final two years of school which coincided with a change in the age limit, enabling Aidan to play both years of the Senior Cup.

In 1998, he shifted gears to UCD on a two-year scholarship and was also involved in the IRFU Academy where Aidan joined the likes of Paul O’Connell, Donncha O’Callaghan, Brian O’Driscoll, Kieran Campbell, Adrian Flavin, Jerry Flannery and Paddy Wallace.

The 6’ 7”, 18 stone, and more, second row was a man before his time in the sense that he represented the Ireland sevens.

“I suppose I was quite athletic and quite fast. Denis McBride and Kurt McQuilkin were running the sevens programme. They were in and out to the IRFU Academy sessions,” says Aidan.

It was there they would have noticed a specimen, whose measurables screamed international second row forward, with the God-given gifts to roam the sevens circuit.

“It was funny. We were training up in UCD in our wet gear in around two or three degrees of cold weather. We went from there to 30 degrees heat in Dubai,” he recalls.

“Willie Anderson was a coach at the Academy. He asked me to join Dungannon which I thought was strange at the time. In hindsight, why would it be strange when one of your coaches wants you to play for his club?

“It was an opportunity to be coached by Willie and play with Paddy Johns, who had come back from Saracens at that point.

“I was also moving from an Academy contract to an Ulster Development contract, the next step up. That was a no-brainer for me because, believe it or not, Paddy was my Ireland hero growing up.

“I ended up there for three years and, in the year of foot and mouth, won the All-Ireland League, beating Cork Con in the final in 2001.

With the 1998 U-19 World Cup and All-Ireland League medals draped around his neck, Aidan had all the appearance of a sure bet to have a long and shining professional career.

However, Aidan never made it beyond the bench in his two years at Ulster, triggering a return to Leinster in 2002.

This was made more attractive by the departure of Bob Casey to London Irish and Trevor Brennan to Toulouse that summer and the offer of a two-year senior contract.

“There was a gap that needed filling and, I guess, it was natural for me to move home where Willie had become Leinster assistant to Matt Williams.

“For my first year, I played for Leinster and for Dungannon because of how they had looked after me for two seasons.”

Interestingly, Aidan’s memory of many marquee moments are sketchy at best: “I don’t know why that is,” he remarks.

“Maybe the Donnybrook matches are rolled into one. They all seemed similar. Don’t forget, this was back at a time when the crowds were 5,000-6,000 whereas the away matches were all about new experiences.

For example, the debut in blue against Glasgow Warriors on September 6, 2002, does not resonate at all. He made three successive appearances in the second row for his first three caps, adding Cardiff and Border Reivers to his resume.

None stands out in his recall.

“When you are in the company of Malcolm O’Kelly and Leo Cullen, they were straight in when they were available. I would have been competing against Ben Gissing for the other slot,” he states.

“When you felt like you were making ground on these guys, the Heineken Cup came around and the intensity went up another level at training in those weeks.

“I struggled with that early on as a young player, getting used to it. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed my two years at Leinster.”

Nonetheless, Aidan accumulated four starts from nine caps in 2002/03 and a further nine starts from 17 caps in his second season, including a run of three tries in three matches.

On the face of it, this was clear progress. It wasn’t convincing enough for Declan Kidney to want to see more of Aidan when the Corkman took over in the summer of 2004.

The rise of the versatile Ciaran Potts meant there was no place on the roster for Aidan, forcing a career-defining personal decision, leading to the end of his time in the paid ranks.

“There were no spots in the other provinces available. I sat down with my auld lad (Frank) to consider trawling through the UK with a Championship club. Did I want to do that? Did I want to bounce around? Not really,” he admits.

“If I was to look back, it was probably a regret that I didn’t have an agent at the time, someone to reach out and test the waters.”

There is a reason professional contracts are sometimes handed out on a ‘position of need’ basis. It could just be that Aidan came along at a time when Irish rugby was stocked with international locks. O’Connell and O’Callaghan at Munster. O’Kelly and Cullen at Leinster.

He moved closer to home to play for Clontarf in the All-Ireland League for one season and then back to where it all started at Suttonians to reconnect with childhood teammates Karl Cowman, Noel Hehir, Darragh Dowling and Dave Walsh.

“I decided to move into the family business, selling industrial supplies, for about 12 years,” he says.

“Five years ago, when dad decided to sell up, I looked on it as an opportunity to get back into rugby. I started part-time as a Club Community Rugby Officer for Leinster and Rugby Development Officer for Dublin City University.

“From there, I was working as an operations officer with the participation team in the IRFU for three years until about six months ago when I became a victim of the consequences of Covid,” he declares.

The man who left Leinster after two years in professional rugby feels compelled to stick with the game he loves.

“I know I want to be involved in rugby in some shape or form. I am just looking for the right opportunity.”