IAN KEATLEY has backed London Irish to go from strength to strength should they secure promotion this season.
Declan Kidney’s men are 10 points clear at the top of the Green King IPA Championship with six games to go and already have one eye on the future with high profile signings such as Ireland star Seán O’Brien and Australian internationals Nick Phipps and Curtis Rona.
There is an unmistakable buzz about the club and a determination to do things differently should they return to the top flight.
Keatley joined the Exiles on a short-term deal at the end of January and the 31 year-old has been impressed with what he has seen so far.
Speaking to The Irish Post, he said: “When I was younger, London Irish were seen as one of the top clubs. Unfortunately over the last few years, they have been up and down.
“But they have got real ambition. You can just tell by the passion and the way the players talk here. They want to go up and they want to stay up.
“They really want to build that London Irish connection again, and I think that’s what they are trying to do bringing in a few Irish players. Which is exciting because, just looking at the board there, you see the likes of Conor O’Shea and David Humphreys. And plenty of other fantastic former Irish players.
“Maybe a bit of that has been lost and it’s nice to see they are trying to do that again.”
The former Munster star was not put off by the club’s current league status and the chance to link up with former Ireland boss Declan Kidney and Less Kiss again also held significant appeal.
“Declan gave me my first Irish cap back in 2009 and I worked with Les Kiss before in the Irish set up. When I found that they were running the shop here I was really excited to work with them again.
“For me personally, when London Irish came calling, it didn't matter that they were in the Championship. They are still a big draw.”
Keatley’s start to life in London has been frantic. He scored two tries on his debut against Coventry last month before a head injury in that match curtailed his involvement.
He scored on his return against London Scottish at the weekend and hopes that is the catalyst for a strong, injury-free end to the season before his switch to Treviso.
“It was a dream debut against Coventry apart from getting knocked out!” he said.
“It was a good start, but that all came from the forwards platform. That’s one thing I definitely notice here, how good the set piece, the scrum and the maul is.
“It just came off that. If I looked good it was the other guys doing all the work. Terrence Hepetema took a really good hit line and it just opened up some space for me at the back.
“It was a nice start to get a try early on, but the work was done by the other lads.”
This year’s London Irish’s St Patrick’s Party is on Saturday, March 23 at the Madejski Stadium in Reading. It has gained a reputation for being the party of the season with non-stop music, entertainment and great craic. Entertainment starts from 12.00. Kick Off is 3.00pm. Tickets are from just £25 for adults and £5 for children, group discounts and family tickets available. Visit www.lidirect.co.uk or call 0118 968 1016