McGrath: Don’t let season end on sour note

Never mind the double, Jack McGrath is simply eager to break Leinster’s league drought when they go toe to toe with Guinness PRO14 defending champions Scarlets on Saturday.

James Lowe and Jack McGrath chat as they arrive for Leinster squad training at UCD.

Leinster may be basking in the glory of a fourth European title since 2009 following their Champions Cup victory over Racing 92 in Bilbao 11 days ago but the lack of a domestic title since 2014 is gnawing at the Ireland and Lions loosehead prop.

Following their 2014 PRO12 success, the Blues failed to reach the play-offs as defending champions, leaving Glasgow Warriors to lift the crown at Munster’s expense, while Leinster topped the league table in 2016 but lost to Connacht in the final.

Last season, they were swept aside by Scarlets in the semi-final at the RDS and McGrath feels there is unfinished business this time around now they have eliminated Munster in last week’s semi.

“Obviously it’s in the back of your head, but it’s not the driving factor, because we haven’t won the league since 2014, so it’s been a barren old spell.

"We’ve topped the league and not gotten anything from it... guys are taking it as a different competition, we’re playing for those 55 guys who got us to this point.

“It’s just a different week’s approach, we’re lucky enough to call it a home final, there’s a lot of excitement and buzz around the place. To get over last weekend was huge for us, with the changes that we had, the guys we were missing.

“Those guys coming back, the likes of Rob (Kearney), (Dan) Leavy, (Johnny) Sexton, they’re all bringing fresh energy and vigour and they want to get one up on Scarlets, because they’re the current champions.”

A European-league double would be a first for a PRO14 side, with Leinster having fallen short in the play-offs in both 2011 and 2012 having lifted the Heineken Cup.

“I don’t know if you would call it lucky or unlucky but I am around long enough to remember when we won a Heineken Cup and then going to a (league) final and not being able to get over the line, so there is that experience and bit of bitterness. A lot of great guys have walked through that door at Leinster and not done that so that is definitely a driving factor.”

Getting past Munster a week after their Champions Cup final victory bodes well for Leinster given it would have been all too easy to have had their minds on the beach having conquered Europe.

“It is huge, that side of it,” McGrath said. “The emotional toll it takes to come down from a European win and play a game. Probably, earlier in the season, we don’t have a great record the next week. Coming from the quarter-final we lost to Treviso, coming from the semi-final we lost to Connacht.

“I know Munster was a semi-final but it was just important for us to...we don’t know the next time we will play Munster in the RDS, if ever. So we didn’t want to leave it on a sour note and there was guys getting a start in a big game which was a good factor as well.”

Head coach Leo Cullen praised his side’s mental strength as much as their ability to match Munster’s physicality last Saturday and McGrath, who started the semi-final ahead of Cian Healy, said staying fresh mentally was easy when there is another final and a second trophy to aim for.

“For me, I’m experienced enough to know when to switch off. It’s a very exciting week and you can’t take that away from it. If you can’t get up for a week like this where you are going for something historic it is going to be hard to get up for any game of this magnitude.

“The bumps and bruises sort of go out the window when it is finals week and a big game on the line. Any time our backs have been to the wall all season we’ve performed. There is just general excitement and really looking forward to it.”

South African referee Stuart Berry will officiate the final.



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