Marsh gets kick out of taking on heat
Rising No 10 desperate for another taste of ‘A’ glory
When Cathal Marsh looks around the dressing-room this evening, he will see seasoned professionals like Dominic Ryan looking back at him.
There will even be the likes of Noel Reid and Brendan Macken, relative newcomers, but players who have had significant impacts at Pro12 level this year.
Yet at only 21, it will fall upon his shoulders to drive the Leinster ‘A' team forward from out-half as they take on Leeds in the British and Irish Cup final.
It is not difficult to see why. He leads from the front and isn't shy as he directs all around him. He is very comfortable putting boot to ball from the hand or from the tee. He doesn't shirk the responsibility of tackling men twice his size. All impressive traits in their own right, especially when you consider his age and relative inexperience.
Not that it matters to those around him. As the Leinster ‘A' team have gone in search of a first ever defence of the British and Irish Cup, Marsh has been their go-to man and hasn't been found wanting.
Unbeaten in their pool, there was a clinical performance against Munster at home in the quarter-final in which he scored two tries in a 27-point personal haul and a heroic comeback against Pontypridd away in the semi-final when, again, he showed great composure in a hostile environment to convert an injury-time two-pointer to draw the game.
“I enjoy the pressure that comes with being a 10 and standing over those kicks. You couldn't wish for a better environment than what I experienced in Ponty – as a home crowd, they were amazing and really rallied behind their team.
“However, as the away kicker, a respectful silence was not in plentiful supply, especially for that late kick. They went berserk! I think Tom Turner, who came on with the kicking tee, was more worried than I was,” said Marsh.
“That will stand to me, though, that experience, that crowd, the noise, the pressure and that is why the B&I Cup is so important for us as we develop. We are experiencing new styles of rugby and different environments all completely outside your comfort zone.”
That ease with which he addresses a ball hasn't always been there. A scrum-half by trade, it wasn't until sixth year in St Michael's that the kicking duties were thrust upon him and there were days when the proverbial barn door and the banjo were miles apart.
“Sam Greene was ahead of me as kicker, a very decent full-back who could kick it a mile, but then he moved on and it was suggested that I step up. A lot of credit goes to my coach, Greg McWilliams, for sticking with me because there were days when it went everywhere but where I wanted it to go! We stuck at it, though. He is the most positive man alive,” said Marsh.
When he landed into the Leinster Academy, he met Richie Murphy for the first time and he is delighted to hear of his contract renewal as skills and kicking coach.
“Richie has played a huge part in my development. He has a great eye for detail and has really helped me with my kicking technique, which has come on hugely since I arrived. I've tried out different kicking tees before settling on one that suits and he really helps in terms of little work-ons for me as I look to develop my kicking game.”
A week building up to a final is a special week and Marsh has enjoyed the role reversal that has taken place in Rosemount as the senior players have held the tackle bags for a change.
“It's been a really good week and it has been great to see the buy in of the senior players and management. They did the same ahead of the Ponty game, where they play the Leeds plays against us and then defend our own plays. It's nice for us not to be holding the tackle bags for a change, but it is also great to see how supportive they have been when we have needed them and it is definitely a goal of both squads to achieve two wins over the next 10 days or so.”
Leinster ‘A' played Leeds twice in the pool stages last year, winning at home and drawing away, so there is some level of knowledge built up. “We have seen them up close last year and again have seen a fair bit of their games on video as we prepare for the final,” Marsh said.
“They play an expansive game, they like to play it around and are very similar to ourselves in that regard, so I think the supporters will see an open game in Donnybrook. They lost a Championship semi-final last week, so they will be hurting and with a few players leaving at the end of the year, this is their last chance of a trophy, so they will be extra motivated coming over.”
However, it is also the last game of the year for this Leinster ‘A' squad and the likes of Darren Hudson, Jack O'Connell and Leo Auva'a are leaving at the end of the year, so they have motivation aplenty themselves. There is also the memories of last year and wanting to experience it all again.
“We do laugh at some of our B&I Cup results in that we always make it difficult for ourselves. This year's semi-final win over Ponty', when we could have lost, and last year's final away to Newcastle, where we needed two huge kicks from Noel Reid, one in normal time and one in extra-time, to claim the victory.
“But what a feeling afterwards – pure elation – and the majority of those lads are back again, with the addition of a few others like the Byrne twins. So there is a unity and a focus within this group that we want to achieve again as a group and Friday is as good a chance as any to do just that.”