Jack McGrath IV
In Ireland, props strangely seemed to be considered an extinct breed. Having been so lucky for so long with “Ginger” Mc Loughlin, Popplewell, Clohessy, Wallace and many others there was suddenly a sense of panic in the dearth of available Irish props.
Marcus Horan and John Hayes were for so long incumbents in the Ireland jerseys that it seemed that there was no one ready to fill their shoes. John Hayes, legend and Irish centurion has retired and Marcus Horan thankfully has come back and will add much needed experience to Munster, yet there has been a slow emergence of a new generation of Irish prop. Cian Healy, of course is the name on everybody’s lip, a ball wrecking tyro, adept in the tight or loose, a shoe in for the Lions jersey. Yet there is another soft spoken Dubliner coming close behind.
Ever since his school days Jack McGrath has been marked out. A finalist with St Mary’s in the 2008 SCT in which they narrowly lost to Healy’s old outfit Belvedere, the big St Mary’s man has all the attributes to be a top class prop.
St Mary’s, always associated with great back play and quick hands, has of course produced many a good prop, for anyone who has cared to notice. From Sean Lynch to the modern day Robert Sweeney, Mary’s has always been capable of having a solid front rower to lock down their scrum. Jack McGrath is no exception, as Cork Con will surely testify from the recent Ulster Bank League match between the two sides in which the Mary’s scrum dominated.
His sixty minutes against Connacht in the Rabo Pro 12 was his first start for Leinster. On top of that he has 11 appearances off the bench in what is fast becoming a meteoric rise, culminating recently in a call up to the Irish training camp for the six nations. He is replacing the injured Paddy McAllister, another of the new generation of Irish prop hopefuls.
An Irish derby away, as tough a place to start for a young front rower but the 21 year old looked every bit the future Irish international. Solid, unforgiving in the tight and in the props bread and butter, he showed a calm that was beyond his years, winning the first scrum penalty against Connacht’s Ronan Loughney. McGrath is happy with how his career is progressing.
“It felt great, it felt like all the hard work I had put in over the last year or so had brought me there which was a massive confidence boost. It was incredibly tough but it was a learning experience for me and I really enjoyed it”. And at an athletic 6 foot and about 19 stone, there was ever only one position for the Leinster man.
“Yeah I’ve always been a prop. I never really wanted to play anywhere else either. I suppose my coaches in school saw that early, starting from the club under 10’s and Richie Hughes at u13’s to Brian Moore at JCT then onto to Rodney O’Donnell and David Breslin at SCT. They were a massive contribution to what kind of player I am today.”
A prop who can play both sides no less which could be a massive plus for for Irish rugby and indeed McGrath with a certain massive Healy sized shadow hanging over him. “I was always quietly confident that I could play both sides it was just a matter of getting a lucky break to go there with Leinster and taking my chance which thankfully was the case, I got some positive feedback from the few games at tighthead I got at the start of this season particularly in the A games. So that was good but yeah I feel comfortable on both sides.”
Playing in the club game has also given McGrath the hardnosed edge that all good young props require even in the academy driven era. Playing with a young St Mary’s side with an experienced core has helped McGrath in his development.
“The atmosphere is brilliant up in the club, the lads are great crack but when it comes down to business they know when to switch on which is one of the things I like about playing there and it helps that Ciaran Potts and Peter Smyth are fantastic coaches, who of course have the experience of playing with Leinster. We also have Steve Hennessy and James Norton who are great coaches as well. Their experience is great to have because they have been there and done it already, their philosophy is to win, the same as Leinster.”
“And playing in the Ulster Bank League is a good testing ground for forwards in general, possibly for front rowers a bit more because you’re coming up against older props and hookers week on week who have a lot of experience under their belt. It can be tough.”
Playing with such experienced props such as Mike Ross is a huge advantage for any young player yet many would struggle to match the Irish tight head’s thirst for scrum knowledge and nous.
“I think everyone has their own way of doing things, I just go through videos and look at their strengths and weakness and just think of ways of how to exploit them. I’m constantly learning from them every day which is a challenge but it’s very enjoyable for me. I just think as a young player its important to watch and listen to the older lads when starting off and practice your techniques often, then respect your opponent but don’t fear them.
The Irish camp represents an opportunity to push his credentials and reputation even further but he is patient about his prospects.
“Being in the camp will be a great experience and I’m really looking forward to the training but I’m just taking it step by step at the moment. Hopefully I stay injury free over the next couple of weeks and do get some time for Leinster.”
A man on a mission, at the forefront of the Irish propping generation.