Jack McGrath’s overnight success arrives after a long slog

Prop is happy with his season of increasing demands with Leinster and Ireland

At this time of year during the tsunami of end of year awards, some of the gong winners slip by unnoticed. This week Leinster loosehead prop Jack McGrath was voted the provinces Players' Player of the Year and tighthead Martin Moore the Young Player of the Year.

At this time of the season players also line up for the summer tours, the senior squad to Argentina and an emerging Ireland to Romania. The emerging Irish team, a dispiriting selection for some and a step up for others, may also slip under the radar.

But a look at last year's travelling party shows something important to Irish growth and the relative success so far of Leinster. McGrath made the trip to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. So did Moore. They were joined there by flanker Jordi Murphy and hooker Seán Cronin. Rhys Ruddock was also involved as was Dave Kearney, who cemented a place on the Six Nations winning side earlier this year.

McGrath, 24, made his international debut last November against Samoa and added seven more appearances, five in the Six Nations, while 23-year-old Moore debuted against Scotland in February.

Work ethic
McGrath offers a different skills set to loosehead prop in situ, Cian Healy as a physically bigger, more traditional prop with a fierce work ethic. He has shown undeniable improvement to overtake Dave Kilcoyne and Tom Court with Ireland in a season that seems to have accelerated for him. Tbilisi was a catalyst of sorts for pushing on.

“Yeah definitely,” says the prop. It’s about confidence in being able to put on the Irish jersey and play well . . . Joe (Schmidt) has come into the role and you know he’ll be watching so you know that you have to play well, improve every time you play.

“It definitely does help with that next step and it will be interesting to see this tour this summer to Romania, the guys who come out of it next season and get international recognition and get into the November internationals.

“It’s just getting a run of games under your belt and you do get more confident and become used to the speed and the level. Because when you start you’re coming from school rugby or club rugby and it’s a different level again.

“Obviously Rabo, Heineken Cup and international, it goes up. It’s definitely confidence and getting it to kick on. It sort of pushed me to train over the summer, keep fit and roll into the next season and be ready to take my chance.”

It's been a season of increasing demands for McGrath and he's met them all. And while it sometimes appears that names flash into squads with undue haste and ease, as McGrath explains his is a point reached on the back of work load and application. Not so long ago his weekly frustration was the hope that he would get more than the fag end of a match and barely break sweat.

More of the load
While he was part of the squad, he felt the bit part player, involved in the match day but not often central to the outcomes. Healy remains the loosehead prop of choice but McGrath is satisfied to share more of the load than he once did.

“It’s happened fast this year but it’s been three or four years of hard work,” he says. “There’s been time when it’s been pretty dark and you don’t know when you’re going to get a game. Sometimes it makes you work harder because you know you don’t want to go back to that place again . . . when you are playing games and you are coming on for five, 10 minutes and you’re sort of in one week out the other . . . sometimes it’s your age that can go against you in the frontrow. Thankfully it has come around now.”

For now it’s good. Healy still indisputably reigns at the loosehead side in Leinster, Ireland and beyond. But the Irish prop knows that every team needs two respected players in each position and with the attrition rate of the frontrow his back up is crucial. Now the cavalry are close behind Healy and McGrath appears to be leading that charge.