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'I'd lie if I said it wasn't frustrating': Leinster prop to consider future plans in coming weeks

Mike Ross, who made his 150th appearance for the province last weekend, is out of contract at the end of the season.

Ross has been with Leinster since 2009 but is out of contract this summer.
Ross has been with Leinster since 2009 but is out of contract this summer.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

WHEN MIKE ROSS came off the bench for the final 13 minutes of Leinster’s victory at the Liberty Stadium last week, he passed a significant milestone by winning his 150th cap for the province.

The Cork native follows Jamie Heaslip, Cian Healy, Devin Toner, Isa Nacewa and Rob Kearney from the current playing group in achieving the feat and managed to do so at the same ground he also made his 100th appearance on.

“It’s just a number in a way,” the prop tells The42, in a typically humble and understated manner. “But there is a great sense of achievement too.”

When you consider he’s only in his eighth season at the club, the achievement is made all the more impressive. Ross has virtually been an ever-present in the Leinster and Ireland scrum since joining the eastern province from Harlequins in 2009.

So long the cornerstone of the set-piece at club and international level, this season has been slightly different for the 37-year-old as his game time has been reduced by the form of Tadhg Furlong and Michael Bent.

Saturday’s cameo against Ospreys was his 15th appearance of the season, but just five of those have been starts and a three-month injury layoff did little to help his cause.

“The season was going well until I got injured against Zebre [in November] and coming back it has been hard to get a bit of momentum,” he says.

“It has been frustrating because the injury stopped that momentum and it kept me out for longer than anticipated and when I came back it was always going to be hard because both Michael Bent and Tadhg have been playing superbly.”

Mike Ross Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The emergence of Furlong, in particular, saw Ross drop to the bench for the early parts of the season and the changing of the guard extended into the Ireland set-up as he was left out of Joe Schmidt’s plans for the historic November series.

Ross had previously started every single match during Schmidt’s tenure — a remarkable record in itself — but his frustrations were only set to grow as a high-grade hamstring injury was to rule him out until the first week of February.

He has made just one start since with his involvement limited to second-half appearances against Treviso, Dragons, Scarlets, Cardiff and, most recently, Ospreys. When Furlong and Bent are both fit and available, Ross has found himself as third choice and watching the big games from the stands.

“I’d lie if I said it wasn’t frustrating because it is but no matter who you are, you train to play and you don’t train to be a professional trainer,” he says.

“You just want to play and at this stage of my career you know these times are precious and you want to make the most of every opportunity you get.”

How many more opportunities he gets in the blue of Leinster remains to be seen.

Ross has not signed a new contract with the province for next season and is in all likelihood set to leave when the curtain falls on the current campaign. The question is whether he’ll look for another club or call time on a career which has garnered 61 Ireland caps.

“I’ve a couple of options on the table, I still haven’t made my mind up what I’m going to do next season,” he explains. “Hopefully over the next couple of weeks I’ll be able to firm up those things and I’ll have a better idea. That’s where I’m at at the moment.

Mike Ross and Tadgh Furlong celebrate after the match Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I’ve got some really good memories wearing that blue jersey and of course you want to stay in it as long as possible but at the same time you know everyone has to make a decision about your future when it comes to professional rugby and hopefully I’ll make the right one for me over the coming weeks.

“I’ve an interest in coaching so that could be a possibility and I’ve a big interest in the tech space. I’m also looking at maybe doing some further education whether it’s a full-time or part-time masters.”

Whatever decision he makes, Ross has several avenues he can go down and his reduced playing involvement this season has allowed him to plan ahead for the future as well as work alongside charities such as Pieta House.

Instead of lining out against England in the final game of the Six Nations, Ross was outside the Aviva Stadium helping raise funds with bucket collections before and after the game.

The charity, which works to prevent suicide and self-harm, is particularly close to Ross’ heart after he lost his older brother to suicide when he was just 17.

“It’s 20 years ago now, time does heal but my parents would find it difficult around his anniversary and things like that,” he explains.

“It’s a wound that scars over but it’s always there. If we can prevent even one family suffering from the same heartache then it’s worthwhile and I’m really keen to help out in any way I can.

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Mike Ross Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“I think most families in Ireland have been affected by suicide in one way or another and people like to pretend it didn’t happen or just not talk about it.

“It wouldn’t be your favourite topic of conversation but it’s so important and I’m in a position of influence to get a message out there: there is help out there and people out there who want to help. There’s always options beyond the final option so to speak.”

Ross joins Leinster team-mate Jack McGrath in putting his face to Pieta House’s campaign after the latter bravely opened up about his own brother’s passing as part of IRUPA’s ‘Tackle Your Feelings’ initiative last year.

“You can play contact sport and be big and strong but that doesn’t really matter. Mental health affects everyone equally,” the Corkman continues.

“The work charities do is absolutely crucial and it’s so important for people to know they don’t have to suffer alone. It’s perfectly okay to not feel okay.

“At the end of the day we’re just kicking a ball around. We might think we can entertain people but what we do pales into insignificance when you compare it to the work of the charities.”

Electric Ireland and Pieta House are encouraging people to ‘Wake Up’ and walk from Darkness Into Light on 6 May at 4.15am. To register visit www.darknessintolight.ie.

If you need to talk, contact:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House 1800 247 247 or email mary@pieta.ie – (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

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