Thursday 19 September 2019

'A' team hero hoping plan comes together

Cathal Marsh at training in UCD for Leinster
Cathal Marsh at training in UCD for Leinster

Marcus Ó Buachalla

It's hard to say when the Leinster love affair with the British & Irish Cup started but it was truly ignited on a May evening in 2013 when they defeated Newcastle Falcons in the final.

A penalty in the dying minutes from Noel Reid secured an 18-17 victory in front of nearly 4,000 spectators.

"It was an incredible game," recalls Leinster's out-half that night, Cathal Marsh, of the extra-time win.

"They were unbeaten up until that point and had Dean Richards on the sidelines so they were well drilled. We were two behind with time nearly up in extra-time but the boys in the scrum really turned the screw and forced a huge penalty. Noelie did the rest!"

A look through the 23 that night is indicative of the way in which Leinster have treated this competition since its inception in 2009/10.

That side was made up of some senior players but mostly Academy and at times Sub-Academy talent - Leinster use the competition as an opportunity for those younger players to get exposure at a level above the AIL.

"The pack that won that scrum to ultimately give Noelie his shot contained the likes of Marty Moore, Jordi Murphy was there as captain, Dominic Ryan," adds Marsh.


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"All lads that are now full Irish internationals. Noel Reid and Luke McGrath are now getting regular game time with the Leinster senior side so it shows the value that is placed on the competition in here."

The champions were tested on a number of occasions as they sought to defend their title last season and none more so than in Pontypridd in the semi-final. Again extra-time was needed.

"It was one of the best atmospheres I have ever played at," says Marsh. "A compact ground but packed to the rafters. Ponty were a very different team to what we would be used to."

Marsh was at out-half once again but with the added responsibility of the place-kicking duties. At the end of extra time they were locked at 22-22, but Leinster went through on a try count back, three to one in their favour.

Crucially, Marsh had converted Andrew Boyle's last-gasp try to force extra-time.

"Obviously you'd rather not have such pressure on a kick but circumstances like that really test you and your technique. It is all well and good talking about having a 'trust' in your technique and being able to kick in training or during the game when all is going well but it was all on the line there," he says.

"The work that I had been doing and continue to do with Richie Murphy our kicking coach, builds to moments like that so it was nice to reward the efforts of the boys and to make sure that we were able to bring it to extra time."

A 44-17 victory over Leeds Carnegie in the final in Donnybrook followed on a night when Marsh converted all five tries and added three penalties.

"I've been lucky to have started both campaigns as the ten but last year I felt more confident, was playing well, had a great team around me and the coaches really let us express ourselves. They wanted us to go out and to enjoy ourselves," he says.

"It was very satisfying to have won last year in particular as we had come through some sticky situations like away to Moseley and Ponty.

"Everything went well for us that night against Leeds but we had to work very hard for it."

Like the year before, household names were making statements, Tadhg Furlong and Jack Conan being the latest.

It seemed like only a matter of time before Marsh would be the one grabbing the headlines. He had made his Senior debut in April 2013 against Zebre, but he is still waiting for his second cap.

"Of course I would have liked to have played more games but I also appreciate that I have to be patient," he says.

"This season has been frustrating in that I have also had some injuries.

"But looking ahead there is the World Cup next season and all things being equal, Johnny (Sexton) and Ian (Madigan) will be at that and Jimmy (Gopperth) is going to Wasps. . . I also understand that I have to make sure that my game is in the best shape to take those opportunities as Steve Crosbie and Ross Byrne will also be champing at the bit looking for game time.

"If you're involved in the Leinster environment you know there are going to be quality players above you and indeed behind you. But that drives you on."

Gopperth will be missed, stresses March.

"He has had a huge impact. A Pro12 title in his first year but he has also been excellent with us younger players. That's the stuff that people don't see," he says.

"The experience he has of playing in New Zealand and in the Premiership is huge so you'd be crazy not to tap into it. But you wouldn't even know he's leaving to be fair. He's as focused as ever and it's business as usual."

Marsh did make the replacements bench in two of the last four Pro12 games. No minutes but valuable exposure nonetheless.

"You target these windows to be involved with the match-day squads and of course I would have loved to have played some part but it was not to be," he says.


"But it is great to be in and around the match-day set up and to see what is expected at that level. Matt (O'Connor)has been very encouraging in terms of what I need to work on and I am very clear in what I have to do to keep progressing as a player."

A shoulder injury has curtailed his game time with the A's this season with Irish U-20s out-half Byrne getting game time, but Marsh is good to go for tonight's semi-final.

"It will be a very tough game. Worcester are top of the Championship and have lost only one game in 17. They've been impressive in the B&I Cup as well and deserve their home draw," he says.

"But we've just got to focus on ourselves. It's been a good week and being able to focus 100pc on our own preparations with no Pro12 distractions will hopefully stand to us. It will be a huge task but we're looking forward to it."

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