Tuesday 27 June 2017

Team spirit helps Tracy to impress in first start

James Tracy in action during Leinster’s victory over Scarlets
James Tracy in action during Leinster’s victory over Scarlets
James Tracy

Marcus Ó Buachalla

It is only a matter of weeks since Sonny Bill Williams made a young New Zealand fan's day when he presented him with a World Cup winner's medal. Williams made headlines the world over and was eventually awarded a second medal in light of his selfless gesture.

Many miles away at the end of a Guinness Pro12 encounter between Leinster and the Scarlets under the Anglesea Stand in the RDS stood 24-year-old Leinster hooker James Tracy.

Fresh from a first start for the province the former Newbridge College player accepted his man of the match medal from the Guinness rep, had his few words with Marcus Horan on TG4 and made his way solemnly to the dressing rooms to get showered and changed.

The medal hung around his neck as he walked and in time he would enjoy his moment but his mind was already elsewhere and on someone else and the enjoyment they would get out of this same medal.

But first the journey . . .

"I made my debut nearly three years ago so in a way it's been a slow few years playing-wise but then again I look upon that debut as a huge moment for me. You want to kick on but you have to be patient too and when you are 21, the patience isn't exactly there!

Grabbing

"But I can't complain. There have been others that have been hit with injury and retirement in that time so I did eventually just get the head down and kept working hard and hoped that my time would come and thankfully it came this evening."

The Leinster young guns are making a habit of grabbing games by the scruff of the neck. Already this season Garry Ringrose, Cathal Marsh and Josh van der Flier have walked the same walk, medal in hand, to the dressing room.

"I suppose when you are handed that chance you are so keen not to let it go without giving it everything you've got. For me, I know Richardt (Strauss) and Sean (Cronin) are back from a World Cup campaign but also you have Aaron (Dundon) and Bryan (Byrne) battling away so I want to take the chance to show what I can do. It was the same for Garry, Cathal and Josh I suppose.

"They had huge battles on their hands during the World Cup with lads here and then in the full knowledge that the likes of Dave Kearney and Luke (Fitzgerald), or Johnny Sexton or Sean O'Brien would be coming back. So maybe it's no surprise that we have upped our performances. But that can only be done with the help of the lads around you. For me, the other night I had Cian Healy and Mike Ross beside me. Then Jack McGrath and Marty Moore. Four Irish internationals. There were four Lions in the pack. That means that you can just focus on your job, because I know that the rest of those lads will look after theirs."

Cameos to date but a full start now to his name. Was it all that different?

"The build-up is different as you know you are in from the start so your mindset is different. Whereas on the bench you need to channel that energy in a very different way. It wasn't perfect but I really enjoyed it. I was tired at stages as it was a lot faster than what I am used to but with Cian and Mike to my left and right, it was hard to go wrong.

"They were great in the build-up too. Cian texted me that morning and told me to write down a few pointers to concentrate on. That sounds so simple but when you have a fella of however many caps taking time out of his preparation, it makes a difference and it shows that we are all in this together."

He wasn't of course the only first time starter. Cian Kelleher also made his first start on the wing and Garry Ringrose started in the centre for the first time. At a time when the Pro12 leaders - the only undefeated team at that - were coming to town, that says plenty about the confidence the coaching team have in the new breed.

"Scarlets were unbeaten for a reason. They are really good at the breakdown. A dogged team but they also have real quality with the likes of DTH van der Merwe for example.

"They have beaten us, Glasgow, Munster and Ulster so yes, you could say that the easy option would be to play the players with the experience but again I have to praise from a players point of view Leo and what he has done over the first seven games.

"He has used 50 players and has remained true to his word. If you show up well in training and you do your job, he will take note and if deemed appropriate you will be rewarded so it's a massive show of faith when you do get the nod. You just don't want to let him or the rest of the players down."

Strong carries, a solid lineout, even two turnovers, the former loosehead turned hooker, could stand tall as he made one last trip of the evening to the media room. He was asked about the journey. The atmosphere in the RDS. He was asked about the battle for the number two jersey, the lineouts and about his relationship with Hayden Triggs and Devin Toner. But then it was time to head. He had one last trip to make on a momentous day.

By now his medal was safely tucked away in the box but it wasn't long before it was back out and proudly worn by another member of the Tracy family, sister Sara-Jane.

"My sister has MS and she has been a source of strength for me lately and she was very much to the front of my mind as I went through my prep this week and as I played the game.

"The way she carries herself and the way she stays so strong, that's all the inspiration I need. It was just extra special to be able to call in to the hospital and put the medal around her neck. It was a special moment to top off a brilliant day."

A brilliant day could lead to a brilliant week but Tracy is in no rush either.

"Everyone wants to be picked but my focus is the same as ever. To try to be best that I can be and to be front and centre in those starting hooker conversations. But for now whether I am picked for Wasps or I am not, I will keep training and keep trying to get myself right and help the team for what is a massive few weeks for the club." For further information on Multiple Sclerosis check out www.ms-society.ie

Irish Independent

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