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Marcus Rea up and running again for Ulster after injury and ice-cream

The 23-year-old waited 18 months between his first and second Ulster caps. He is intent on building momentum for his third.

Image: Philip Magowan/INPHO

18 MONTHS SEPARATED Marcus Rea’s first and second senior professional appearances.

It wasn’t a case of opening night jitters on debut, far from it. Last April, he was sprung from the bench after just 13 minutes to replace Sean Reidy.

He took his seat in the press room afterwards with a try and a man of the match award to show for his 67 minutes work. The emotion of achieving a dream writ large on the face of the “country boy from Glarryford.”

The timing of that high watermark in form worked against him. The very tail end of the season. Momentum was tough to pick up again in the new campaign. Tough enough without a pandemic and a string of minor niggles that followed a broken jaw suffered in action for Ballynahinch against Trinity.

“(I was pushing for) a speedy recovery, because Christmas dinner was coming up pretty quick and I didn’t want to miss out on that never mind any more games,” jokes the 23-year-old back row.

“That was a big one. Even mentally, coming back and putting my head in places it shouldn’t be sometimes after breaking your jaw.”

“Ice cream was probably my best friend. Had it in a lot of smoothies to make them sweeter.

“I wasn’t blending up any meat or anything like that there. I kept it ice-cream filled, with fruit and stuff. There were times I tried to explore and it came out a real nasty colour, probably tasted as bad as it looked.”
Once he got comfortable in the danger zone again, he had to hone in on improving his game in the breakdown and rounding his skill-set.

“Moving forward, there are points that coaches have to see in me. That’s what I’ve been working on. The breakdown area is going to be a big one. If I can be a big threat there then that’s something they can turn to and have faith in me to do a job out there.

“It’s been a long year. I’ve been putting effort into stuff. It’s not that attractive when you’re talking about rugby, but it’ll be the unseen work that’ll get me through this season.”

Rea is fortunate to have an invaluable influence constantly by his side, his elder brother Matty who has ploughed the path ahead of him and experiences the trials and tribulations of the professional environment before him.

“He obviously has the brains so I kind of let him take the lead,” jokes the younger brother.

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marcus-rea-with-brother-matty-rea The Rea boys after a win over Leinster in 2019. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I’d say we’re very dissimilar in ways. He’s probably a lot more forward-thinking than me. I’d be a bit more in the moment and I probably make a few more wee mistakes, even round the farm back home.”

Rea’s second appearance for Ulster came earlier this month against the Ospreys. Having impressed on debut against Max Deegan, Caelan Doris and Will Connors – all internationals as of this afternoon. 18 months later he had to go head-to-head with a decorated Welsh international, a Lion, in Justin Tipuric. He didn’t make many mistakes that night, though he concedes the Welsh star was not at the peak of his powers.

“When I first started, kind of nervous, but once I got out there and felt the pace of the game in the first half it was alright. I probably  thought he was going to be better than he was.”

With the All-Ireland League called off again and so few match minutes under his belt, Rea was thrilled to be called to play for Ulster in the IRFU’s first inter-provincial Sevens tournament last weekend.

A chance to test the lungs before he runs out against the Dragons on Sunday.

“It was a really good experience. Especially with the group of lads we did have, it was really good fun.

“The coaches said ‘we have a plan, but just go and enjoy it. We actually ended up playing some really good rugby.”

Patience has been a virtue, but he is keenly aware too that it is his responsibility to force head coach Dan McFarland’s hand.

“Hopefully, at the turn of this season, he can rely on us to take on responsibility and shoulder that, have faith in us.

“It’s on us to play well and give him that benefit so he can go into a game week saying ‘he’s carrying a niggle can we rest him?’ We want to be the players holding our hand up saying don’t worry we’ll get the job done.’”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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