Saturday 24 March 2018

It's been a good start but this is a huge four weeks

Play Diary: Luke McGrath

Luke McGrath during his side’s Pro 12 clash against Ospreys. Photo: Sportsfile
Luke McGrath during his side’s Pro 12 clash against Ospreys. Photo: Sportsfile
Luke McGrath
Luke McGrath pictured during training newsdesk

It is hard to believe that we are already five games into a competitive season. From a personal side, I am really enjoying it thus far and the season has already given me a career highlight to look back on in years to come as I captained the team at the RDS for the first time. It was a hugely proud moment as a lad that grew up just down the road and went to school down the road in St Michael's to lead those 23 lads out.

I also feel as though the team is in a great place. Competition is high and all players are keen to improve and learn more. It's what you strive for on a daily basis: everyone driving the standards.

Last week, we took on an unbeaten Cardiff side stacked with international players. It is a difficult place to get a result from past experiences; however, I felt the team showed great resilience to grind out an important win.

It wasn't our best performance to date but winning tight games away from home, when not performing to our best, is vital if we want to think of silverware this year. It is also great to keep the momentum going from the Edinburgh and Ospreys games.

It was brilliant to see guys like Ian Nagle and Barry Daly make their debuts as I know how hard they have worked throughout pre-season. Also, a special mention has to go to Rory O'Loughlin who made his first start for the senior team. Rory and myself have lived a few hundred yards from each other since we were young so it was great to see him make a positive impact on the game.

Last year, we used close to 60 players, which is encouraging as a squad. It shows the confidence that Leo and coaching staff have in the younger talent coming through the system. These experiences that the younger players have had, have definitely helped the squad evolve this year. It is very reassuring to see home-grown talent take their opportunities when called upon.

More opportunities will definitely come this weekend and it's important that we are ready to face them head on.

There has been a nice buzz to the place as obviously this week we play Munster in the Aviva Stadium; it really doesn't get any bigger than this.

This was a game that I always looked forward to when I was growing up. I even remember watching Gordon D'Arcy score a late try in Lansdowne Road to beat Munster many years ago. They are always incredibly competitive matches. All the interprovincial games are. Everything seems to go up a level for obvious reasons.

This fixture last year was my first experience playing Munster at home. A game that I watched throughout my childhood and to be involved in one was a bit surreal. Again, another close encounter but thankfully we came out on top that day. It was also my first time playing in the glorious Aviva Stadium, and what an atmosphere it was. Looking around and seeing blue and red throughout the ground was a sight that I will never forget and I'm looking forward to a similar sight tomorrow in front of over 40,000.

This game also begins a big block of matches for us. With teams like Munster, Castres, Montpellier and Connacht all coming one week after another, it will really test the strength of our squad. We had a bitter taste leaving the Champions Cup early last year so it is something that we have been really building for. In saying that, there isn't a better game to get us more prepared for Europe, than playing a strong team like Munster the week before. It is exactly what we need.

Currently, Munster are a point ahead of us in the Guinness Pro12 so a lot is at stake. They have been in great form, scoring seven tries last weekend, and they also have a wealth of experience in players like Conor Murray, Simon Zebo and Peter O'Mahony, so we know how big a challenge it is going to be.

Playing guys with experience from the highest level is only going to improve you as a player so I'm really looking forward to it.

I cannot wait for kick-off tomorrow and hopefully we can use the vital home support to our advantage. See you there!

Irish Independent

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