Tuesday 28 February 2017

Marsh: 'I feel I am getting better with every game'

Marcus Ó Buachalla

Cathal Marsh scores against Newport Gwent Dragons during their Pro12 game
Cathal Marsh scores against Newport Gwent Dragons during their Pro12 game
Cathal Marsh

Cathal Marsh cuts across the road leading into Leinster Rugby HQ with a spring in his step and with good reason. A man-of-the-match performance against the Dragons and just back from three days off. Good times.

With only four caps under his belt he may seem like a new kid on the block, but you have to go back to 2013 for his debut at a time when Uncle Kracker was all over the charts. A perfect tune for any No 10.

"'Follow Me' was my song after the debut. Not a great version of it either but I got it out there! I suppose I thought I'd kick on from that point but instead I've had to be patient."

He has been patient but after next week's encounter with the Scarlets in Round 4 of the Guinness Pro12, Leinster face into arguably the most intensive game schedule they have faced in quite some time with a further 15 weeks of games to come. The St Mary's club man isn't complaining, though.

In other years he could have been lining out on Wednesday evening in the Leinster 'A' game against Munster; instead he has started every one of Leinster's five games this season, including the two pre-season friendlies. That meant a few days off and a seat in the stand as he cheered on the 'A's.

Lucky

"We've spoken about it a huge amount as a squad. This is a huge window of opportunity for us with the lads away and we have to make it count both personally in terms of trying to get game-time but also collectively in terms of trying to get as many points on the board as possible.

"I've been lucky so far in that I have had the game-time but Ross (Byrne) is also pushing hard as is Steve Crosbie so there is no such thing as sitting back. But it was nice to be able to cheer on the lads on Wednesday and again I think you saw how well the other lads are going and they're just itching to get a run as well in the Pro12."

Three competitive games in and so far so good. They have managed to take something from each and he now has his first Leinster score to his name thanks to a nice break in midfield from Dan Leavy and a pop pass from his old school mate Luke McGrath. A try made in St Michael's.

"Dan started it all off alright but to be fair I think Benny (Te'o) made a great carry as well so St Michael's can't take all the credit but it's been great to share so much game-time with lads that I went to school with.

"It's nice to be able to take to the field with mates as well as team-mates. Last Saturday was only my fourth cap so there are still nerves but when you walk into the dressing room and see the lads those nerves drift away. It's a good place to be and obviously to see Luke and Dan and even Cian Kelleher and other Michael's lads doing well, is brilliant. I think we had seven or eight past pupils on the pitch there a few weeks ago which is great for the school.

"We are all at different stages in our careers. Luke made his breakthrough ahead of Dan and I but we've all had a decent start to the season and we're looking to push on now."

McGrath made his debut in May 2012 against the Dragons, while for Marsh it was in April 2013, a year later off the bench away to Zebre. But after that he stalled. He'd have to wait nearly two-and-a-half years for the next jersey.

"It's a big gap between first cap and second and I won't lie there were times that were tough. I think I sat on eight benches and just the games never went my way. I had a few injuries as well and of course they played a part but you do struggle to stay focused when the times are tough.

"The key thing is to try to focus on the next game and thankfully we had a great few years with the Leinster 'A' team and won back-to-back B&I Cup titles and then I would focus on doing as best as I could when out with St Mary's. That wasn't easy either as we did have some tough days but you also learn a hell of a lot from being a 10 on the back foot, where you are not dominant and how to manage a game in that situation.

"The main thing is that I am now in a good place and enjoying my rugby. You learn a hell of a lot from being involved. There are just things in a Pro12 game that you just won't get away with that you might with the 'A's or in the AIL. You try to figure out what works as you go along. Learning on the job. It's a step up but I feel I am growing with every game."

A cursory glance through the record books shows that there is one element still missing from his four games with Leinster at out-half. The place-kicking duties. Not that he isn't capable. While Noel Reid was handed the tee in the victorious 2012/'13 B&I Cup campaign, Marsh assumed responsibility in the 2013/'14 campaign, culminating in a 19-point haul in the final against Leeds Carnegie.

"I enjoy place-kicking but at the same time not having that extra burden on my shoulders allows me to focus on the game and those around me.

Quality

"For the last few games I have focused on the pack and getting them moving, while Noel (Reid) outside me has superb vision so he has a look at the back-field options and what's on. So while I don't mind if the kicks were back on me, when you see the quality of Fergus McFadden and Isa Nacewa and how they kicked so far this year, it makes sense to share the burden."

Next up are the Scarlets. No point in looking back on last year as this is all new to the 23-year-old out-half.

"The lads have said that Parc y Scarlets is a tough place to go and obviously they lost there last season having been ahead at half-time but I can only go on what I have seen of them so far in video analysis and stuff. They're good, very good and have really exploded out of the blocks. They are not top of the Pro12 for nothing.

"They're scoring and taking teams apart so we need to be ready for them. We'll learn from the Dragons game, we'll protect the ball better and we'll go again."

He says the last bit with a smile on his face. Not only is he enjoying his moment in the sun, he's relishing it.

"Winning in the RDS with the boys. It's what it's all about, isn't it? You see it from the outside and you just want it so much. Having experienced it twice now this season, you want it again."

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