Bury Rugby Club’s Warren Kearney is brushing up for curling at Winter Olympics

Bury RFC's Warren Kearney is also an international curler for New Zealand.
Bury RFC's Warren Kearney is also an international curler for New Zealand.

BURY player-coach Warren Kearney may just have lifted rugby’s Suffolk Cup, but he has his eyes on a much more prestigious prize – a Winter Olympic gold medal.

For those who watch number eight Kearney crunch opposition forwards at The Haberden each week, it may come as a surprise that his first sport is actually the thinking man’s game of curling.

The 27-year-old New Zealander has been part of the national senior side since 2005, only stopping to take a break by playing and coaching rugby at Bury for the 2011/12 season.

“It’s nice to get away from rugby at times to a bit more of a relaxation sport,” said Kearney, who also leads the West Suffolk College Academy outfit. “A lot of people describe it as chess on ice – it’s very strategic and quite a thinking man’s game.”

The Kiwi completed his playing spell at The Haberden by touching down the final try in last Wednesday’s Suffolk Cup final triumph over Colchester, but is to leave the club and return his attention to curling when he travels to Scotland this summer.

“I took a couple of years break to play some rugby because I’ve been in curling for a few years,” said Kearney. “Hopefully I can get a bit of experience in Scotland – where the sport started off – go back to New Zealand and get in the team again.

“In New Zealand we have a limited amount of players, so the plan for me is to play some locals up there and learn a bit from them.”

Curling shot to prominence in Britain in 2002 when Rhona Martin and her British women’s team claimed gold in the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

It is a sport in which players slide stones across ice towards a target area, with scoring recorded in a similar way to bowls where those closest to the target count towards a team’s score.

Each team has eight stones per end, with a match lasting for eight or 10 ends.

It is perhaps best known for the brushing that takes place as the stone slides towards it target, which induces a curved path and causes the stone to slowly turn as it slides.

“I’ve done it ever since I was about 12 and it just took off from there,” said Kearney, who picked up the sport at the age of 12.

After playing for a few years, Kearney and some friends decided to enter a team into the World Junior B Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2001.

“That’s where the love of it took off,” he said.

After competing well, the New Zealand national side picked Kearney for their under-21 outfit, a team he was part of until 2005 when he progressed through the ranks to the senior side.

Although he was not selected for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, he has been a regular fixture in skip Sean Becker’s team until taking a break from the sport to fly to Europe and play rugby last year.

And after failing to qualify for the 2010 Games in Vancouver, Canada, Kearney is determined to get his chance on the biggest stage when Sochi, Russia, hosts the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“It would be absolutely fantastic,” he added. “Any sportsperson wants to compete on the biggest stage and getting to the Olympics is the highest accolade you could achieve.”

To reach the championships, New Zealand must repeat the success of this year that saw them finish fifth in the World Championships.

They must qualify for next year’s Worlds by finishing in the top two of November’s Pacific Curling Championships, with a top seven spot on the international stage enough to reach the 2014 Games.

However, should they not get through that way, they could still qualify for one of the three remaining spots in an Olympic qualifying event, something they are eligible for having done so well at this year’s World Championships.