Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership

Become A Member
Dublin: 6°C Friday 25 September 2020

'You'd swear the World Cup was two years ago': McGrath too busy to dwell on a season of disappointments

So far anyway.

“IF YOU WERE thinking that way, you’d begin to hate the game.”

That’s Ireland prop Jack McGrath’s response to a reporter’s question about how mentally taxing it was to be headed for another major tournament in a season that began all the way back in the summer with little tangible reward for his efforts so far.

Professional athletes just can’t allow themselves to be wired that way anymore.

Nobody wants to prepare for failure, but everybody will experience it at some point. So McGrath and his team-mates are hard-wired to push those experiences behind their range of vision.

Jack McGrath Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Echoing a sentiment expressed by Cathal Pendred and Andy Lee on Newstalk’s Off The Ball Saturday panel, McGrath points out that time – or the absence of it – is a rugby player’s friend. Combat sports not only lack the presence of team-mates to help shoulder the burden of a loss, but they also leave enormous free time between fight nights when beatings can fester and doubts can contemplated.

“You’d swear it was two years ago, wouldn’t you?” He says of the Rugby World Cup quarter-final exit.

“You’re straight back in to (the Pro12). Two weeks after Argentina, I was over in Treviso, so it’s forgotten about.

“It was hard to forget about for the first week, but then you get back in to Leinster with new faces and it’s a great environment, a fresh environment to be in. As Irish players it was good to be in, even though it still hurts it was good to get out of that bubble.”

Even Leinster’s one-from-six Champions Cup campaign doesn’t derail the positivity. As far back as November, Leinster players were insisting they were just a few fine margins away from victory. When the winning run in the Pro12 came along there was a touch of vindication. So now, McGrath sees not a Connacht side who have just ended a streak of four league losses, a Munster XV who lost to 14 men in France or the dismal end to Leinster’s European campaign. He sees the positives for all four provinces.

The question of the long hard slog comes, and the 26-year-old is almost taken aback by the attitude that somebody could be anything but fully pumped-up for the next opportunity.

“We do mental work to let us relax and not get too worked up. If you were thinking that way, you’d begin to hate the game. It’s about enjoying it and that’s what we always go out and try to do.

We have a day off during the week when you’re able to switch off and go and do other things. When you come back then you’re nearly itching to go.

Be part
of the team

Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership.

Become a Member

“I enjoy my rugby, so it’s not something I’m dreading when it comes in to major tournaments.”

“Another thing is time. You lose at the weekend and then by the Monday or Tuesday you say: ‘I’m playing Wales in two weeks, I can’t really be too annoyed here. I just have to move on’.

“That’s the beauty of the sport. It’d be different if you were a boxer or a fighter, they’ve six months to dwell on it. We have about seven days, so you can let your frustration out the following week… or during training.”

IrelandÕs Jack McGrath under pressure

That training, particularly in the short, intense windows for international training provides more than enough mental stimulation to keep players’ minds moving forward. Last week’s sessions in Carton House took the squad together and allowed the group to become accustomed with one another again. The final days before facing Wales at home will be about individuals knowing their roles inside out.

“The way Joe (Schmidt) coaches, everyone’s on their toes. And I think that’s the best way guys perform, when you’re under pressure. He wants us to perform under pressure.

“Even in aspects on the pitch, or knowing our roles and stuff like that. When guys are under pressure that’s when we perform our best.

“It’s a bit of a cliche that Ireland teams, Irish teams in general, perform with their backs to the wall.

“When you’re in an environment like that and everyone’s pushing: everyone wants the best for each other, but you’re still going to get a tongue-lashing if you mess up. (Either) by Joe himself or by players.”

You gotta love what you do.

Props, prohibiting substances and even a proposal at Ireland’s open training session

6 women who will be key to a successful Irish title defence

About the author:

Sean Farrell

Read next: