Monday 20 November 2017

Macken making hard yards

Brendan Macken in action against Treviso last weekend
Brendan Macken in action against Treviso last weekend

Marcus O Buachalla

After two losses on the trot, it was important for Leinster to get back to winning ways last Friday. With the sun blazing down and with the crowd in good Friday form, Leinster entertained and got the bonus-point win to put them back on track for that Pro12 home semi-final.

Brendan Macken was called into the action early on as a blood sub replacement for Brian O'Driscoll and he was back on at half-time for Zane Kirchner. Exalted company to be keeping but the 22-year-old is well used to it now and he was happy just to contribute to the team effort and to get the five points.

"We knew what we had to do going into that game. The two losses on the bounce were disappointing but Treviso coming to the RDS helped focus the minds. They had Italian internationals back who had performed well during the Six Nations and they were coming to us on the back of a bonus-point win so we needed to perform.

"There were of course areas to work on but we got a performance and our execution was better than it had been. The sun shining and the dry track certainly helped and we are a team that like to play with the ball in hand and it was nice to see plenty of it."

Although predominantly a centre, with Kirchner leaving the field he was called on to the wing but it didn't faze him. All part and parcel of the training week and match day.

"As one of the three backs on the bench and the utility back at that, I knew during the week that I'd be covering a number of positions so you do get a chance to run those positions in training. So while it was unusual in a way to be on the wing, the basics remain the same. Get the ball in your hands, retain it and make hard yards."

As the Leinster season draws to a close, it is only natural that people start to think of those that will no longer be with the squad next year.

While all the talk is of Leo Cullen and Brian O'Driscoll and their departures, Eoin O'Malley has also stepped away from the game but not on his own terms. Macken lined out alongside O'Malley for Leinster and saw at first hand what an athlete and what a performer he was.

He was a little bit older than I was but not by much but he was already such a leader. On and off the pitch, he just carried himself so well and was already part of our leadership group. I also saw day in, day out what a natural footballer he was and I lined up against him often enough at training to know how quickly he could wrong-foot you or leave you in his wake. He really was a great player."

He also saw how cruel professional sport can be.

"You just never know what's around the corner and that is the hardest thing to grasp; how quickly this all ended for Eoin. Yes, there was rehab and efforts to get back but then it's gone. It just reinforces that old saying that a bird can't fly on one wing. You need other options outside of sport and Eoin has luckily enough been busy since he retired."

Practising what he preaches, that other wing for Macken is a Business and Finance course in Dublin Business School, and while the distractions of a Monday and Wednesday evening around town are plentiful he has come too far now to be led astray.

Macken made his full debut in the 2009/2010 season against Glasgow Warriors and has steadily added to his Leinster appearances since that game away in Scotstoun. This year the former Blackrock College player has grown under Matt O'Connor and also made his Heineken Cup debut.

"For me, this year was about two things. A new coach brings new ideas and a clean slate for everyone and then I was fortunate in that there were a couple of injuries early on in the year so I got a chance at Heineken Cup level. After that it is up to you as a player to take your chances when they come."

His voice spikes at the mere mention of the premiere European competition.

"It is brilliant that it has been sorted for next year. I loved every minute of my exposure to that level of competition. Everything with it is intensified. The pace, the hype, the hits, the calibre of player you face ... it is worlds apart from anything else and I definitely want more of it."

With the Irish tour to South America on the horizon for a number of the more senior Leinster players, a step too soon for Macken perhaps but he got a taste for the international set up underage with 15 U-20 caps and again last season with the Emerging Ireland side and it is an experience he wants again.

"It goes without saying that pulling on a green jersey is a huge honour and of course I want to experience that again but I need to perform in the blue jersey first and we have a few massive weeks coming up between now and the end of April."

Massive weeks and two trophies. The Pro12 and the B&I Cup and playing his part.

"At this time of the year all anyone wants is to be involved and to have something to play for. Nobody wants to be seeing out the year playing out time but really dreaming of a beach and the sun.

"As a squad we have targeted the two trophies but there is a process to get there. We won't get ahead of ourselves.

"We know what we have to do and it is one step at a time, one training session at a time and then one game at a time."

Soon it will be time to say farewell but for now, there is some rugby to be played.

Irish Independent Supplement

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