Sunday 22 October 2017

McGrath aims to seize chance and emulate 'brilliant' final feeling

Luke McGrath in action during training with Leinster A at UCD. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Luke McGrath in action during training with Leinster A at UCD. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

When Luke McGrath was summoned from the bench in last weekend's Pro12 semi-final against Ulster, you would have been forgiven for assuming that he would look to Eoin Reddan as the man he was about to replace.

But such was the injury toll and intensity of the game that the scrum-half was needed to replace the injured Dave Kearney on the wing.

At 5ft 9ins, it's fair to say that the 21-year-old isn't the biggest and given that he was pitted against Tommy Bowe, it was a real test of his nerve. But such is his calm demeanour, the former St Michael's student took the daunting task in his stride.

EXPERIENCE

"I don't think I had played on the wing since I was in third class, so it was a bit of an experience, but I was just delighted to get on the pitch," he says. "I wasn't really as nervous as I would have been if I had been going on at No 9.

"I knew I was going on the wing and I didn't really have too much time to think about it. I'm glad I didn't have any kicks to deal with because they would have had a bit of height on me!

"When I look back at it, you might have thought they'd have targeted me more, but I suppose they probably didn't think about it at the time – I'm glad they didn't," McGrath adds with a wry smile.

A former captain of the Ireland U-20 side, McGrath has long been tipped as Reddan's natural successor, but it hasn't always been easy.

With Isaac Boss playing back-up to Reddan, McGrath was forced to battle it out with another young scrum-half, John Cooney, for the spot as Leinster's third-choice No 9.

Cooney has struggled with a shoulder injury this season, which has allowed McGrath to get a lot more game time. Despite the traffic in front of him, McGrath maintains that there was never any temptation to seek game time elsewhere.

"I knew I was in a good spot in the Leinster academy, so you have to be patient. All the senior lads let you know that from an early age, so I'm happy to bide my time."

McGrath will start at scrum-half in tonight's B&I Cup final – just as he did a year ago against Newcastle Falcons. And with another chance to win some silverware, he knows only too well the significance of the clash.

"This competition is very important to us. Mattie (O'Connor) always stresses how important the cup is to the club. Winning it last year really spurred us on this year. It was a brilliant feeling and it's a similar enough group again.

"Everyone loves putting on the Leinster jersey and it's a stepping stone to breaking into the senior side," he adds.

With both Reddan and Boss entering the latter stages of their careers, McGrath has another chance this evening to stake his claim as Leinster's future scrum-half.

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