McGrath: I struggled with being left out of squad for South Africa clash
For Jack McGrath, last weekend was an unusual experience.
Only Devin Toner has played more Test matches for Ireland under Joe Schmidt, but when the coach revealed his team to take on the Springboks the prop found himself on the outside looking in.
Prior to Saturday's encounter, McGrath (left) had only missed six matches - a World Cup warm-up against Scotland, the November meetings with Georgia and Canada and the three Tests last June when he was off featuring in all three Lions Tests in June.
A hip injury meant he sat out the training sessions that laid the groundwork for the game, but in match-week he could have been forgiven for arriving into camp thinking he had enough credit in the bank to get a place in the 23. Not so, Cian Healy was starting and Dave Kilcoyne was on the bench.
Instead, he had to readjust his focus and row in behind the two men selected; both of whom had been going well this season and carried that form into a performance against the Boks.
It wasn't an easy process.
"I hadn't trained the week before and the stars probably aligned a little bit against me; coming back and the two boys had a little bit more game-time coming into the series," he said. "Not training that week, not being able to put your hand up for selection at all and the two boys playing well...
"It was hard to take. I struggled last week with the selection, but I realised that the boys were playing well. You have to respect that, you have to respect the coach's decision.
"It's not the end of the world; hopefully I get selected to play this week and put my hand up for selection.
"I haven't been in a position like that before. It was just a different week for me than I'd been used to for weeks of big games.
"When that happens to you. you re-evaluate things and you step back and realise how lucky you are to be where you are.
"It was hard, but the lads did a great job. When these sort of setbacks happen it makes you stronger as a person and a player."
The Lions was a career highlight McGrath will never forget, but it did put him on the back foot when he came back this season.
"You're sort of playing a bit of catch-up when you do come back initially, because guys are back and you're coming back into full training," he said. "The way Leinster are playing and training at the moment, it is very high tempo so we are coming straight back into that and some lads have a bit more game-time under their belts.
"It just takes three or four games more that the lads have on me. It's one of those things. You're coming in on such a high and you're coming back a little bit behind the pace.
"At the weekend, if I get in, it will stand to me if I can get a good few minutes, maybe 50-60, would be good. It's just getting the minutes under the belt and staying niggle-free after three or four long seasons of not missing a whole lot; just keeping the body right because it can catch up on you after a while."
Now, his focus is on reclaiming his place for the final November game against Argentina by putting in a good performance against Fiji on Saturday.
"You have to take it," he said. "Sometimes you do have to step back and say, 'I haven't become a bad player overnight'.
"It's about going back to your basics, what got you to where you are and not having negative thoughts and thinking, 'This is the end of me now'. If you are picked on Saturday you have to try and put your hand up for selection."
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