McLaughlin hoping 'itchy feet' carry him to Leinster mountain top
KEVIN McLAUGHLIN is at the bottom of the mountain but he's been here before.
In early 2009, Michael Cheika told him there was a chance he'd lose his contract with the province but by the end of the year he was doing a creditable job of filling Rocky Elsom's No 6 jersey and, 12 months on from when Cheika told him he was in the last-chance saloon, he made his debut for Ireland against Italy in the Six Nations.
It was a remarkable turnaround in fortune for McLaughlin, who would have been a shoo-in for last year's summer tour before a knee injury he picked up in the Magners League final defeat against the Ospreys ruled him out for the next seven months.
Since that final, Leinster's back-row options have mushroomed. Sean O'Brien has found the form of his life alongside Jamie Heaslip and Shane Jennings, and Rhys Ruddock is now a fully fledged international. Dominic Ryan, who seems equally adept on either flank, is among the most exciting prospects around, meaning that McLaughlin will have to prove himself all over again.
"The two young lads coming through (Ruddock and Ryan) are playing very well," McLaughlin said. "Seanie is playing the rugby of his life, Jenno is playing well, Jamie is there.
"It does feel a bit like there is a bit of a mountain. It's kind of exciting on the other hand because the team is playing so well and there is everything to play for, and for me to get my form to a level that is better than before to get my place back."
Injury has haunted the 26-year-old throughout his career and while undergoing rehabilitation for his knee injury, he took the opportunity to fix a long-standing shoulder problem. In all, he spent almost three months in either a cast or a sling.
December's snow meant he wasn't afforded a full outdoor contact session before last Saturday's win over Connacht. And even that comeback didn't go to plan: he was expected to play little more than a half, before a blood injury to O'Brien and a bang picked up by Nathan Hines meant he had to see out the full 80.
"It's good to be back in because it's been hard for me to watch this season. It's great to see the team go so well, but when you're not involved it's frustrating. I've had itchy feet for about three months now, and it was great to get back on Saturday and vent a bit of that."
Friday is the first visit of the Ospreys to the RDS since they plundered the Magners League title there last year and it offers McLaughlin the ideal opportunity to "vent" some more.