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'You definitely miss playing for Ireland and being involved'

Leinster scrum-half Luke McGrath is hoping to force his way back into the Ireland squad.

Leinster scrum-half Luke McGrath.
Leinster scrum-half Luke McGrath.
Image: Ben Brady/INPHO

THE MONTH JUST GONE had a very different feel for Luke McGrath. November is usually one of the busier times of the rugby season, with McGrath either pushing himself in Ireland camp or trying to catch the eye with Leinster.

Not this year. The scrum-half didn’t make the cut in Andy Farrell’s initial squad for the November internationals, and with the United Rugby Championship season taking a break, the usual demanding Leinster schedule wasn’t there to keep him occupied.

You have to go all the way back to the 2019 Rugby World Cup to find McGrath’s most recent cap for Ireland. While he has been a consistent, reliable performer at provincial level, his Leinster teammate Jamison Gibson-Park has jumped ahead of him in the pecking order at international level, with Munster pair Conor Murray and Craig Casey also preferred by Farrell. 

“It has been very difficult obviously when you look on and you play with a lot of lads who are in there,” McGrath says. 

You definitely miss playing for Ireland and being involved. It’s definitely been a tough couple of years but you’ve also got to look at it that the only way you’re going to get back in is if you keep playing well for Leinster. So that’s exactly where my focus is on. If I play well for Leinster hopefully I’ll get picked for Ireland again.”

The back-end of the November window offered a glimmer of hope, with McGrath called into the squad ahead of Ireland’s game against Argentina to cover for the injured Gibson-Park.

“It was a tough 24 hours. I got a call late at around 9.30pm one night so I had to be in the next morning at 8am with all the new calls, so it was definitely challenging but it was a great experience to be back in there, especially coming in just after the lads beat New Zealand.

“I was there for most of the Argentina week and everybody was full of confidence and in great form, which you’d expect. So it was great to be back in.

“There have definitely been some difficult days. I like to think I’m still relatively young at 28 even though the age of the squad now is very young. I wouldn’t say the door had been shut but there were definitely days when I wasn’t sure I was going to get back in so that’s why I was surprised to get the call to get back in. I just really enjoyed being a part of the squad. It’s definitely better being in the squad than on the outside.

mike-catt-and-luke-mcgrath McGrath was called into the Ireland squad ahead of the game against Argentina. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“That was the nice thing about leaving (camp). I was kind of an extra for the Argentina game so it’s nice to know you’re not that far away and who knows what can happen in the future.”

There are plenty of big games on the horizon for McGrath to showcase his talents, starting with the visit of Connacht tomorrow night. Following last Saturday’s defeat to Ulster, the Leinster camp is determined to put on a better show for their home support, while Connacht come to Dublin in form and full of confidence following their superb win over the Ospreys.

They’re scoring lots of tries, they’re a great watch, they’re playing great rugby so our defence is going to be challenged this week.

“We had a good few player meetings (on Monday), we just spoke about how at the weekend we were definitely off and to have a look at ourselves. Irrelevant to what the coaches say, it’s definitely on us as players. We’re back in the RDS so we owe it to the supporters so hopefully we can have a good week’s training now and prepare our best for Connacht.

“It was definitely a difficult day the office (against Ulster). I thought Ulster were very good. They put us under a lot of pressure. We were definitely not as accurate as we wanted to be, both in attack and defence, but full credit to Ulster. They deserved their win and we had a pretty tough day reviewing the game and there’s definitely a lot areas we can improve on for the weekend.”

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Ciarán Kennedy

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