Sunday 4 December 2016

Jack McGrath reveals how opening up about feelings has brought Leinster closer

Published 13/10/2016 | 02:30

Jack McGrath got ‘incredible’ feedback from the Tackle Your Feelings campaign Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Jack McGrath got ‘incredible’ feedback from the Tackle Your Feelings campaign Picture: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Before Jack McGrath decided to go public about his feelings on mental health and get involved in IRUPA's 'Tackle Your Feelings' campaign, he had a lot of deep thinking to do.

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After all, what difference could one "normal bloke" make?

But what if that self-proclaimed "normal bloke" is not so normal and can in fact have a major impact on the lives of people and in particular, the lives of young men who are struggling to find their way in life?

McGrath is a 6ft 1in, 122kg beast and one that has seen his reputation rapidly grow in recent years. He is now rated as one of the beast loosehead props in the world, so when he spoke so eloquently about his own personal experiences, about how suicide has impacted on his life, people began to take note.

The 27-year-old's brother took his own life in 2010, and having bottled up so many emotions about it in the following years, McGrath has already seen the impact that his powerful IRUPA video has had, not only on others but on himself as well.

"I think when people see other fellas putting their neck out a little bit, they're more likely to do it themselves," he explains.

"When I initially sat down and we spoke about it, I was a bit reluctant because you're putting yourself out there and you don't know how people will react.

"Are they going to think you're doing it for attention or anything like that? I had to speak to my family about it. I spoke to my girlfriend about it. As you would - it's a pretty deep thing to be talking about.

"Sometimes you don't realise who you are. You're in this bubble. You forget you play for Leinster. You forget you play for Ireland.

"I see myself as a normal bloke. I'd be thinking to myself 'who would be listening to me?'

"It was affecting me in other ways and doing the video has definitely helped me. It's opened me up, not just in the public but in my own family and in my own relationships.

"If I am feeling annoyed about anything now, I'm more likely to say it, to get it off my chest.

"I didn't think it would be so effectual on myself. I thought it would help others. I think I've changed for the better as a person for doing it."

Before the video was released in March, McGrath showed it to his family and the Leinster squad. The response was emphatically positive, and seven months later, he is still seeing its effects.

"The guys on the Leinster team are my second family," he explains. "I wanted to show it to them and to my family before it went out in public.

"The feedback I got from them was incredible. I think as a result, a lot more people are open about their feelings. I definitely think it's helped us a squad.

"Me opening up like that has helped other people open up in other regards."

Behind the scenes, McGrath and his "second family" may well be a more tightly-knit unit but there is also evidence of that in their recent performances on the pitch.

"There's different roles happening in the club now, which is good - a bit more leadership from certain players, which is nice," McGrath says.

"It's been massively player-driven in Leinster, which is great because there is only so much the coaches can say to you when you stop listening.

"When it's player-driven, as a player yourself, you have to be on the top of your game because if you're telling lads to do something and you're not doing it, you always have to be on it. The pressure is on."

On the pitch, McGrath relishes the big-game pressure, while off it, speaking out about his feelings has helped him cope better with the normal pressure of everyday life.

The hope is that more people will continue to follow his lead.

Irish Independent

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