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I'll turn my World Cup pain into a positive with Ulster: Jack McGrath

New surroundings: Jack McGrath takes in Kingspan Stadium
New surroundings: Jack McGrath takes in Kingspan Stadium
In Ulster training
Former Leinster and now Ulster team-mate Jordi Murphy

By Michael Sadlier

It's Jack McGrath's first outing in the media glare since he swapped provinces and there is a certain choreographed procedure for all to work through.

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After all, the soon-to-turn 30-year-old's decision to follow Jordi Murphy's lead and quit the high-achieving Leinster to come to Belfast for the lure of more regular game time and, theoretically, more enhanced exposure to impress Joe Schmidt and, shortly, Andy Farrell, brings no certainty of the desired outcome.

And, certainly, Murphy's season at Kingspan Stadium didn't lead to him landing the hoped-for plane ticket to Japan with the original party, while McGrath's final campaign as a Leinster player was a deeply frustrating one and had the British and Irish Lions loosehead Test prop from three years ago well behind the rejuvenated Cian Healy and under increasing pressure from Ed Byrne.

As things turned out, McGrath failed to muscle his way past Munster's Dave Kilcoyne when it came to getting the nod from Schmidt for the World Cup, hence the careful choreography over how the man with 56 Ireland caps behind him might currently be feeling a mere few weeks since not making the 31 who are now in Japan.

Murphy has already said that not making the World Cup squad was probably the lowest point of his career and McGrath is tentatively asked if he might more than empathise with his team-mate at Ulster.

"Absolutely, yeah," he said.

Loud and clear then.

He is invited to expand on this in terms of channelling his disappointment into his new workplace.

"Obviously it's not a great phone call to get from Joe (Schmidt) but, for me, I was obviously upset for a couple of days but then I tried to step back and take the positives from it," said a more expressive McGrath.

"It's the opportunity to go to a new club and hit the ground running and hopefully play a lot of games at the start of the season, because I hadn't played a lot last season which was just frustrating.

"So for me I just needed to get back playing rugby."

Which is what he will be doing this evening when he makes his competitive bow as an Ulster player after a run-out two weeks ago during the friendly in Glasgow.

"It's a blessing in disguise not getting picked (for the World Cup)," he said.

Raised eyebrows all round over that one and McGrath came back with: "Yes, it is pretty painful, but I am taking the positives from it to come up here and get stuck in."

He is thought to be on a reserve list to hook up with the Irish squad should there be a crisis, but this situation is, rightly, shot down as being of little relevance to the moment.

"To be honest I'm not even really thinking about that," he said.

"My full focus is with Ulster. Obviously you keep an eye on over there (Japan) but my full focus is here.

"I have new plays, new lineouts, I have everything to learn, and trying to remember everyone's name as well is a challenge in itself."

Of course, there are rather a lot of former Leinster squad members already on the books so, in that regard, there will be some semblance of home comfort regardless of the other new names.

And now for the next issue, namely why leave trophy-laden Leinster to join a province which hasn't won anything for over a decade?

"It is difficult to leave but for me it was the challenge of coming to a place that wants to be constantly striving for trophies and I believe Ulster are going to be doing that from this season onwards," said McGrath.

"The quality of players and quality of coaching staff that is here at the moment (was a draw), and last year they weren't a million miles away.

"Sometimes you sort of have to get very close to winning a trophy before you actually win one, so the improvement from last year compared to seasons previously was massive and it's also building.

"We have recruited well so I think it's going to be a good season."

This is all about McGrath rebooting himself and making a difference again, as well as bringing Ulster more power up front and what is sure to be intense competition with Eric O'Sullivan.

He also comes with a wealth of experience, and especially so when it comes to being a part of winning squads both at Leinster and Ireland.

"I am lucky enough to have been involved in some special days and that definitely helps, because you can let guys know that they're not a million miles away from actually doing it," he maintained.

"Having been in Leinster, just stepping outside your comfort zone is good for growth and, for me, at this particular time in my career, I thought that I would grab it with both hands."

Belfast Telegraph


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