Wednesday 26 April 2017

A November series to remember

Player Diary: Luke McGrath

Luke McGrath arrives ahead of Leinster’s Pro12 clash with Newport Gwent Dragons. Photo: Sportsfile
Luke McGrath arrives ahead of Leinster’s Pro12 clash with Newport Gwent Dragons. Photo: Sportsfile
Dan Leavy. Photo: Sportsfile
Luke McGrath with Charlie Rock (left) who made his debut recently. Photo: Sportsfile

I've been away from these pages for the last while so apologies! But for very good reason. It's been an incredible few weeks. My first involvement in an international set up was pretty special. A history-making trip to Chicago. Being involved in the 27-man squad that beat the All Blacks, a first for any Irish team. It certainly was an unforgettable week.

It was obviously a very special day for other Leinster lads too. Garry Ringrose was part of the match-day 23 and Joey Carbery went on to make his debut. To make his debut against New Zealand, where he grew up as well don't forget, was hugely special for him.

However, once I got a taste for international rugby and all that was involved, I was keen to earn my first cap. Following on from the Chicago week, I was picked on the bench to play against Canada in the Aviva Stadium.

I was delighted to run on for the last 15 minutes of the game and make my debut. Where do I start?

I always thought about playing for Ireland when I was growing up and as you go along the age grade representative Ireland teams you always hope that the senior call-up will come. You keep building and keep setting new targets.

Therefore it was a momentous occasion for my family and me. To think of all the hard work I put in to get there made the experience that more rewarding and then the support that they all gave me along the way. It's just as special for them and it was great to celebrate that at home in the Aviva, just up the road from where I grew up.

There were also debuts for James Tracy, Garry and Dan Leavy - lads that I have played with for years, and in Dan's case at school as well in St Michael's. Sharing this experience with them really topped it all off.

I didn't manage to get game-time in the last two games of the series. However, I learnt a great deal from being involved in that international environment. Training with players who have vast experience at the highest level was invaluable, and you just want to kick on then with your club and hopefully do enough to get back in there.

So overall, I will look back on the Guinness Series of 2016 as one to remember.

As much as I enjoyed it all, it was great being back in Leinster after a successful November series.

The first match up was Scarlets away. A difficult game every year but always a great atmosphere to play in. It was a tough result to take as we were beaten, but I felt we showed great character as a young squad to come away with a losing bonus point. Every point counts!

Even though we were beaten, I sensed that it was a great learning experience for all our younger players, and Oisín Heffernan made his Leinster debut that night so congratulations to him.

The sole focus of the Dragons week was to get back to winning ways. We were disappointed in our performance against Scarlets the week prior and were keen to make amends.

The Dragons were in great form having won three of their last four in all competitions so we knew the test that lay ahead of us. Training all week was intense as the coaches put us through our paces, working on all facets of the game that let us down the week previous.

When match day came, everyone was delighted. It had been a while since we played in the RDS so it was incredible to be back there. The support we get there every game is amazing and this was no different. It was pleasing to get the bonus point win; however, we can always be better.

Special mentions go out to Jeremy Loughman, who made his first start for the club, and Charlie Rock and Max Deegan also making their debuts. Great to see the lads' hard work being rewarded.

With a busy Christmas period ahead - Northampton back to back, Munster and Ulster - it is a very exciting time for Leinster Rugby.

You couldn't ask for a tougher start to the block away in Franklin's Gardens but these are the games that you want to be involved in.

See some of you there and the rest back at the Aviva next week!

Irish Independent

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