Monday 28 May 2018

Luke McGrath keen to take it one step at a time ahead of Ireland's call

Leinster scrum-half Luke McGrath was delighted to get an invite to Joe Schmidt’s post-Christmas Ireland camp Photo: SPORTSFILE
Leinster scrum-half Luke McGrath was delighted to get an invite to Joe Schmidt’s post-Christmas Ireland camp Photo: SPORTSFILE
David Kelly

David Kelly

They say a man would walk on hot coals to achieve his goals; Luke McGrath walked upon a burning blister to do so.

On the first week of the month, it seemed as if McGrath had timed his return from a knee injury perfectly as, with Isaac Boss crocked and Eoin Reddan rested, he was picked to play in the high-profile RDS festive derby against Connacht.

Then, calamity. As the team-sheets were passed around the media room, McGrath's name was marked suddenly absent; a potentially infectious blister was at that moment being lanced a stone's throw away.

"I got a bit of a slagging, even though I couldn't walk because there was the threat of an infection on my foot because of the blister," he says sheepishly. "Some of the lads thought it was a verruca …"

It seemed as if his bubble may have burst, too.

However, despite the childish subterfuge pertaining to who exactly had received a call-up to Ireland's post-Christmas camp, it emerged that the stricken scrum-half had already snaffled a cherished invite.


It would take more than a blister to prevent passage.

"Yeah it was brilliant," enthuses one of the more than 20 Leinster players who transferred en masse to absorb the gospel according to Joe.

"It was kind of only a 24-hour thing, and personally I haven't been in the camp that often so it was great to be involved.

"It was about looking and listening. Because we were all playing at the weekend, it was more meetings and stuff like that. We only had one training session, kind of looking forward towards the Six Nations mainly.

"When I found out I was going, I was delighted, especially as I had been injured the last few weeks.

"I went in there and I had a chat to some of the older lads to get some experience.

"It was more learning all the moves and knowing that if you do get that opportunity you have to know absolutely every detail.

"If you got called in and didn't know all the moves, you wouldn't get picked at all. As we all know, Joe is massive on detail. You've got to make sure you know everything."

McGrath has waited patiently for such an opportunity to knock and he has always been fully dressed for the occasion. But under Matt O'Connor, despite his status as an emerging talent, the Australian was strangely reluctant to give him the chance it seemed he deserved.

Nonetheless, he was still awarded his first full-time contract this season and started well until his body failed him.

It was around this time that, with the futures of veteran duo Reddan and Boss uncertain, unrefuted chatter about Leinster recruiting an overseas nine for next season began to emerge.

Little wonder, then, that Reddan played like a man possessed in the recent derby double success as McGrath helplessly kicked his heels.

Time waits for no man but neither can man harry time. If a St Michael's prodigy had been slated to feature in Europe this season, it was surely the 22-year-old. Instead, it was McGrath's even younger rival, Nick McCarthy, 20, who jousted with Toulon for a fleeting, if encouraging, tough-tackling cameo.

"Obviously, it would have been brilliant to play against Toulon, especially in the Aviva," rues McGrath.

"It was brilliant for Nick. I've known him since I was young and it was great to see a Michael's boy get on, I suppose. It was a frustrating one to miss."

He is determined not to let the next chance pass him by - there is little reason to suggest he should not start this weekend - barring last-minute hitches. And after that, who knows?

"Joe said in the camp that the next few games are very important for when he is picking the squad," reports McGrath. "Everyone is going to have to play very well in the next few games to get picked. I'm trying not to look far ahead because that may only damage what happens in the now."

Irish Independent

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