Saturday 24 June 2017

'We owed it to the lads who had to miss out'

McGrath hails inspirational contribution of lesser lights who stood in during Six Nations

Leinster players, from left, Martin Moore, Jack McGrath and Aaron Dundon celebrate with the Pro 12 trophy
Leinster players, from left, Martin Moore, Jack McGrath and Aaron Dundon celebrate with the Pro 12 trophy
Ireland's Jack McGrath makes his way to training ahead of their opening Summer Tour 2014 test game against Argentina on Saturday
It has been a busy week for Leinster youngster Jack McGrath who helped the province to pick up the Pro 12 title with victory over Glasgow

Marcus O Buachalla

A few hours after the Pro12 final win and the mood is almost sombre in the RDS. Gone is the immediate on-pitch and dressing-room euphoria but the two-in-the morning madness hasn't quite descended yet either.

It is easily explained in the context of the game and the previous seven days, says young Leinster prop Jack McGrath.

"That was tough. Glasgow brought a huge physicality to the game and I am delighted that we matched them, but it takes it out of you," he says. "So while deep down there is a huge feeling of satisfaction at what we have achieved today and this season, right now, the overall emotion is relief, and to be fair on any other night you'd be fit for bed!"

While the scoreline (34-12) would have you believe that this was a walk in the park for the men in blue, two of the converted tries came in the final six minutes.

"From a scrummaging point of view I think it was a good performance," says McGrath. "We won some penalties that Jimmy put away, but I also feel that our defence was excellent and we were under a lot of pressure for the majority of the game.

"To be fair to the S&C (strength and conditioning) team in Leinster again we were able to go through the gears late on and for us subs that came on, I felt we contributed positively, which is what is always asked of the bench."

That defence that McGrath references has been solid all year and the end-of-season stats would back that up. Last season Leinster conceded 46 regular-season tries, but that was reduced to 30 tries this year. To then score four tries against the meanest defence in the Pro12 must have been satisfying.

"Yeah it was, and what maybe distinguished this game from others is that our execution was sharper and we were ruthless when we needed to be.

"But it took a massive effort to get to that point. Those tries in the last few minutes came about from all the pressure exerted in the previous 70 or so minutes."

McGrath is quick to acknowledge the contribution of others – the efforts of some of those departing are front of mind.

"I'm delighted for the coaching staff," he says. "Matt in his first year has delivered a league title and, even with Jono and Greg leaving, it was important that we delivered a performance for those guys too. I think we did that.

"It was also about the lads outside the match-day 23, those that were injured like Richard and Dave or those just not fortunate enough to be selected. We have used in excess of 45 players in the Pro12 this year but it was up to the 23 to represent them as best we could. That preys on your mind a lot.

"Look at the Six Nations window when so many of us were involved with the Irish team as a great example. The guys drove on during that period, won all the games and picked up bonus points. Had that not happened, finishing top of the table or securing the home semi-final may not have been possible. You owe it to them to deliver."

With a Six Nations medal, a Pro12 medal and also a Players' Player of the Year award on the mantelpiece it would be hard to beat the season just gone for McGrath, but he is keen to finish off the campaign in the right manner in Argentina.

"It has been a pretty good year alright," McGrath says. "Being voted Player of the Year by your peers is humbling but you want to win something tangible with your team – the lads that you train with day in, day out. So to win two trophies with two special groups of players is what it is all about.

"It's not over yet, though, and I am really looking forward to my first tour away with the Irish set-up. Argentina have come a long way in recent years, primarily because of more games and exposure to a greater level of rugby since they've joined the Rugby Championship.

"It is also on your mind that next year is a World Cup year and this is a real opportunity to show Joe and the rest of the coaching staff what you are capable of. It is a very competitive environment so you have to take your chance when it's presented."

That reference to making the most of your opportunities brings the conversation around to Eoin O'Malley, who retired from Leinster last year at the age of 25, with over 50 caps to his name. A knee injury put paid to his career.

O'Malley was in the RDS on Saturday evening and presented the final jerseys to the Leinster players. The gesture hit the right note.

"Eoin is a great guy, was a very popular squad member, already a leader and it is mad to think that it was all taken away from him with his best years ahead," says McGrath.

"What he said before the game will stay between ourselves but this is a highly attritional sport and you never know what's around the corner. Eoin, and what he said, focused the minds."

The two glaring omissions from the conversation, though, are Leo and Brian but McGrath insists that they weren't the focus. It didn't need to be said. They all knew.

"They genuinely weren't a focus during the week. There is enough going on between focusing on your own game and then analysis of the opposition, plus the additional pressure of a Final match day," he says.

"But of course we all knew what was at stake for them both. It didn't need to be said. We all knew what we wanted to deliver for the two lads. But again, not just for them, but for the whole Leinster squad, the management and the rest of the team behind the scenes and back at base.

"They will be missed for sure but we have sent them off in the best way possible."

Amen to that.

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