"It happens when I am introduced to someone new, especially in rugby circles. It generally goes along the lines of 'this is Mark Sexton, Johnny's brother'." The story is relayed with a good natured chuckle of someone well versed with having their identity subsumed by a more famous sibling.
There isn’t a trace of resentment, the two are very close, the relationship graduating from fractious as children to supportive in adolescence and beyond. Younger by two years at 34, Mark is the second in line with Jerry, the 29-year-old, six foot five inch ‘baby’ of the male rugby playing Sexton siblings – they also have a sister, Gillian.
Mark is “very proud” of all that his older brother continues to achieve in rugby without being deferential. He explained: “We have an excellent relationship and a good friendship. Most of the time is spent slagging each other about life in general.
“I would always lean on him and talk to him about ideas, what he thinks about certain things. He is also not very intrusive. He’s not telling me X, Y and Z. If I ask, he’ll tell me. I am the same way with Jerry, my younger brother. He has a great head and knows the game inside out. You get good info off both of them.”
Mark Sexton was a very accomplished centre in his playing days – he played JCT and SCT for St Mary’s College – and a horrific injury at 16 years old that sidelined him for about 16 months and denied him a chance to play representative interprovincial rugby and a shot at the Leinster academy.
He suffered a broken tibia and fibula in a schools game against Blackrock in a freak accident in which he was struck by a tackled player, but after having a plate inserted he developed compartment syndrome. The upshot was several surgeries, a skin graft and “a bit of necrosis in my flexor hallucis longus, a tendon that controls the big toe. I lost a bit of control in my big toe.”
Lockdown forced Sexton to confront his future ambition and one thing to emerge was that he wanted to be a professional coach
He was a member of the St Mary’s team that lost an All-Ireland final to Cork Constitution (2010) after extra-time but two years later he came off the bench in the club’s final league game against Young Munster to score two tries in a victory that saw the Dublin club crowned champions for the second time in their history.
He finished up as a player about six years ago, realising that he was unduly compromising his studies to be a physical therapist in trying to juggle both pursuits. He explained: “When I qualified that was my gateway to becoming a coach because I knew that if I had something on the side [work wise] I could become a coach and manage my own hours.
“I worked as a physical therapist for the last number of years while I coached in the school [Mary’s], the club [Mary’s] and Leinster Under-19s.” Sexton had started coaching at 19, initially with the Mary’s JCT.
He worked alongside Hugh Hogan with the club under-20 team and subsequently the SCT, the All-Ireland League team in the club and the Leinster under-19 side, where he assisted Simon Broughton and Andy Wood. They pushed him to do his coaching 'badges/levels'.
Lockdown forced Sexton to confront his future ambition and one thing to emerge was that he wanted to be a professional coach. He then saw an advertisement for an Elite Player Development Officer (EPDO) at Connacht and successfully negotiated the process, including impressing an interview panel consisting of Eric Elwood, Willie Ruane, Peter Smyth and David Nucifora.
Part of the remit was that he, alongside Andrew Browne, would get a chance to coach the Connacht Eagles team. Facilitated by a very understanding wife, Dasha, he watched as much rugby as he could.
He said: “The couple of years that Jerry played in the [English] Championship I would have watched all those games; when Jonno was over in the Top 14 I would have done the same. Now, I watch Super Rugby, URC, English Championship, French Top 14 and Test match rugby.”
When asked about his coaching influences, Sexton mentioned his admiration for Joe Schmidt, Stuart Lancaster, what Steve Borthwick has achieved with the Leicester Tigers and the current Ireland head coach. "Andy Farrell is a massive inspiration," Sexton said. "You look at the job he has done with Ireland.
I would be willing to go anywhere. I am very grateful to Connacht for giving me this opportunity [and am very happy there] as I get to learn so much from all the coaches
“He was probably a childhood hero [for me] growing up watching him play for Wigan. When you see him now and see the aura he has when he is taking sessions it’s pretty inspiring.” The Sexton boys used to watch Friday night Super League because their dad, Jerry Snr, was a huge Wigan fan and they developed a strong affinity too.
Another seminal influence is Connacht head coach Andy Friend. "Friendy is an absolute gent, open with everything. You can knock on his office door any time you want. He has been huge for me. He is very level-headed and knows the game inside out.
“If you’re not taking stuff off the best coaches in the world then you are going to be in trouble. I have been able to lean on him. His way with the players is absolutely brilliant. He is a great man.”
Five months ago Sexton jumped at the opportunity to be part of Richie Murphy's coaching ticket with the Ireland under-20 team as skills and assistant attack coach. Sexton has loved every minute. On Saturday night the young Irish group will take their unbeaten record in the Six Nations to the StoneX stadium, home of Saracens, where England awaits.
No matter what happens, Sexton is living his best life. “I would love to be a pro coach. I would love to be the attack coach for a pro team and then, as the years go by and you get more experience, be the head coach somewhere.
“I would be willing to go anywhere. I am very grateful to Connacht for giving me this opportunity [and am very happy there] as I get to learn so much from all the coaches.”
He explained that he would love to go to the south of France some day to coach there. When it was put to him that there was some Irish bloke in La Rochelle who might be able to help him with that ambition one day, he laughed: “You never know; life is a strange thing.”
For now though he is perfectly content and with the prospect that the next fortnight could hold something very special.