Jack McGrath

Jack Mc Grath

The Voyage

When you look at big Jack now, it is hard to envisage baby Jack, but it is not long ago since that baby Jack was propping up baby chairs in his mother’s kitchen and finding his first legs, rather than propping up the Irish team on legs of steel.

Yes, it is just a little over 20 years since he was a toddler and Jack then, as Jack now, was a big lad who loved the rough and tumble with Brother Stephan and sister Julienne, poor Julienne. From an early age, Jack would be found outside playing with a ball or bouncing off walls or pushing down trees and scraping his knees. With a strong dad who loved physical work and an athletic mother who was a kick boxer, it is no wonder Jack was knocked into shape and developed into a wonderfully strong and athletic boy and later man. Of course, it is not just natural strength; Jack has shown marvellous hard application and dedication to develop his skills and strength. While others played and socialised, Jack sacrificed that to train severely and play.

At Joey’s

Living in Terenure Jack did what Terenure born children do, he went to St Joseph’s (Joey’s) primary school and there he became friends with lots of young lads from around the area, many were a few years older than he was, and soon he was competing with those lads in all ways, including later at mini rugby at St Marys. It was then Jack realised that he was exceptionally strong.

His first real introduction to rugby was mini rugby at St Mary’s College RFC and Eileen Fanning and Louise Crotty were those who gave him that start and he feels gratitude and affection for both. Louise’s son, Ray (himself a talented rugby player), played there too and Jack formed a firm lasting friendship with Ray and others of that mini group, all of whom still play at Marys, including Ian (Nelly) O’Neill, Neil (Neillo) Murphy, Peter Barrett and non rugby man Darragh Houlihan, who remains Jack’s closest friend and confidant.

At St Mary’s College

Having left Joey’s after fifth class, Jack took the trip down the road to St Mary’s College Rathmines, and immediately loved it. He was an average student but a revelation on the rugby field; he could carry half a team on his back over the line. He was a natural prop and that is where he played from start. Hisfirst coach and a vital influence on his life was that outstanding inspiration to many generations of Marys’ boys, Richie Hughes. Richie coached Jack and his team to win the Holy Ghost (U13s) Cup. Although Jack’s JCT team got to the semi finals and his SCT the final, that was his only trophywon at school. Of course, he was a star schoolboy international player. His coaches, former Lion, Rodney O’Donnell and quality club hooker Dave Breslin, were also major influences on his rugby development and he speaks highly of them. Dave worked closely with him and helped him develop his propping technique and they remain close friends.

He enjoyed immensely his time at St Marys, where he was very popular with students and staff. Having obtained his Leaving Cert Jack was he sad to leave and face the hard outside world but he was driven by his love of rugby and his wish to succeed.

Post School Days

Jack joined the Leinster Rugby Academy and St Mary’s College RFC, where in he made rapid progress. Jack appreciates greatly his development through the club system, not usual now for professional rugby players. Jack played U20s, J1 and senior rugby at Marys and he credits club coach Peter Smyth with ensuring his development was rapid and trouble free. Jack is most grateful to Peter, who helped and guided him in everyway. But Jack repaid Peter’s tutelage by making himself available to the club whenever he could; being a vital part of the team that won the AIL in 2012. During his early days in the Academy and Development squads he continued coming up to the club to train and play and when he had already trained at Leinster he would come up to the training sessions at the club in support of his club mates; often to be seen in sleet and rain on the sidelines. Like his international colleagues Jonno Sexton and Shane Jennings,he remains dedicated and loyal to his club and sees the enormous value of belonging, long after playing days are over.

Leinster and Ireland

Jack recalls joining Leinster and the awe felt as he tremulously entered the hallowed corridors and training fields. He remembers meeting his heroes and playing legends. He felt overwhelmed, but he says, that the way Shane and Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen and others took him to their own,was vital to his establishment as was the way then Senior Coach Joe Schmidt treated him. Joe treated him in the same way that he treated the most revered players. Whether a player had zero caps or 100 caps, they were the same valued and trusted member of the squad. Jack says that Joe is the same in the international arena and his admiration for Joe is unbounded.

When last November 2013, Jack was called into the Irish Squad, after showing remarkable progress in a position that is renowned for late development, he was astounded. Again,with trepidation Jack joined the group. When he heard the news, it was an explosion of joy for him. He was nervous, but he did realise that they do not call persons up unless there is good reason and so he settled in; and you all know the brilliant debut he had and he goes from strength to strength. He remembers with great pleasure the flood of texts he received beforehand and remembers each one, whether from club members, team-mates or family and friends, each one is imprinted in his memory. That is the way Jack is, he values life and his circle. He says it is remarkable how close all the players from the different provinces and backgrounds are as one, and all are good friends. Jack is a baby prop, but what a baby, he has now propped against the world’s best tight-heads, such Murray, Franks and Castrogiovanni and has acquittedhimself with distinction; so no fear lies ahead for Big Jack. He intends to dedicate his life in the medium term to developing his game and contributing to the team effort at both Leinster and Ireland.

Off-Field Jack

Jack admits to being obsessive, a good reason as to why he has succeeded. He is generous, kind and patient, as will be noted as he patiently signs autographs on a cold winter’s evening in the rain; or practising a particular skill or technique. But he has, as he calls it, an edge that gives him the steel to compete at the top, never fear and to keep fighting on when things look bleak.

His girlfriend, Sinead Corcoran and he, have a lovelysymbiotic existence and she helps him relax before and after big games. They like to go to the cinema, theatre and musicalevents. They are close too, to her brother Connor, mum Catherine and broadcaster dad, Michael. His sister, Julienne, is at present in New Zealand; whether it is to check out the opposition or get away from scrum practice with Jack, is not known.

Because the club is so important to him he has moved closeby and is enjoying renovating and putting his imprint on his house. In the back garden, he is also making changes wherehe is building a henhouse and run; and intends to set up the good life, including growing his own vegetables. He is alsohoping to acquire the use of an allotment close by. He hopeshis cockerels will not waken the neighbours early mornings and that none will defect to the l’équipe Française.

Jack appreciates the importance of qualifications and LAR, (life after Rugby). With that in mind, he will shortlycommence a course on horticulture. He feels a proclivity forlandscaping or sportsground management or possibly forestry. He likes woodwork and he has an interest in cooking, although the size of the helpings he might serve would hardly be nouvelle cuisine.

Big Jack is a big man with a big future.

D O’Brien