Fergus Mulchrone – The Epitome Of Hard Work
It’s difficult to put your finger on what it is, but walking into Hazelwood for Tuesday’s media session, there is a definitely feeling that all is well at London Irish. Upon my arrival the backs are still out on the training pitch. Brian Smith is there, overseeing, and the session is being lead by Mark Tainton and Richard Whiffin. It’s clear that it’s a session concentrating on a specific point, and what also appears clear is that there doesn’t seem to be a pecking order in terms of the playing staff. All are running defence and offence in the drills, and everyone is getting a fair crack of the whip. It would seem, at least from the outside looking in, that what counts right now, is working hard, putting the effort in on the training field, and performances in on the pitch. You won’t get selected through your name; you’ll get the jersey through your actions.
Nobody epitomises that more than my first interviewee, Fergus Mulchrone. As we sit down to begin the interview he strikes me as a man very at home in his surroundings and comfortable with what’s being asked of him. It is however a far cry from his beginnings playing at amateur level in Manchester, then on to Macclesfield Rugby Club, before a year with Sale Sharks. For whatever reason that didn’t quite work out and he headed back to Macclesfield before getting a call from Rotherham, where in his words, he had good year in the Championship.
That year prompted interested from London Irish, and after speaking with Brian Smith he says that he was impressed with the approach to rugby, the coaches and the hard work that was being put in.
“I always see it as the more you put into it the more you’ll get out. So I came here last year and am very happy with how it went, and am over the moon to be in the new place.”
I pick up on the mention of hard work, which has been a recurring theme when interviewing the players this season, and ask him about how he sees himself as a player. The perception from many that I talk to and read from online is that he’s a hard working, solid defender, but perhaps not a huge attacking threat.
“As an individual you’re trying to improve yours skills week in week out no matter what you’re doing, but it’s kind of where you fit into the team, and what you do as a collective (that’s important). I’m more than happy to take ‘a solid defender and hard working’ as an image. As long as the team are happy with what I’m doing we’ve got no problem.”
It’s easy to gloss over the mentions of hard work and it being about the team rather than the individual, as something that all rugby players are going to say when you speak to them, but there is a real genuineness to what Fergus is saying. There’s no ego that I can detect, and he shows that when he tells me that it’s not just him who’s hard working, it’s the whole squad right now who are putting the hard yards in.
“The recruitment this year has been very focused on character and how guys will fit in to the set up. The right boys have come in and just given a bit of oomph to the squad. Everyone’s pushing each other, you won’t see anyone slacking, as the minute they do they’ll get a tap on the back from one of the senior boys.”
We move on to talking about how games have gone so far this season, and in particular closing out tight ones, as has been the case against Newcastle and Leicester. I suggest to him that team looked comfortable defending those narrow leads in the closing minutes, and that this is in marked contrast to last season, where a number of games were let slip late on. I ask if this shift is down to improved fitness or if there is a mental element to it.
“I think the fitness has always been there, I wouldn’t say we were mentally weak, it’s just those improvements that as a squad or a team we’ve made. The set piece has been massive for us; we’ve started the season fantastically there and been dominant. We’ve been able to take that, and hold a team up to 60 or 70 minutes, and then it’s anybodies game. We know if we can do that week in week out we’re in with a shot at getting a W at the end of it.”
“We were very unlucky against Saracens, and one of things I remember from that match is the crowd, hearing them towards the back end of it, the support we got from them, that’s what drove us on and that’s what gave us a bit of kick. I couldn’t believe how much we could hear the away support as well up at Newcastle when we were on defence. It’s all little things, but there’s been a massive improvement in closing out a game, it’s been a big focus for us.”
I ask about his ambitions, and those of the team, and touch on the fact that at 27 he’s not a youngster just coming through and trying to make a name for himself.
“I only started playing professionally when I was 24, so physically I am a hell of a lot fresher than guys who maybe came through when they were 17 or 18. I always feel I’ve got a bit more to give physically. Ambitions wise, I want to continue the way that I’m going and winning silverware at London Irish. We’ve got the right group of boys, and you can feel it, you can feel the boys’ motivations and ambitions building and you want to be a part of it.”
He’s not looking too far ahead though, his focus is on being the best he can right now, and working hard enough to make it into the match day 23’s and performing well enough to get the wins. If he does that, and so does everyone else, then the longer term ambitions will take care of themselves.
We talk about the competition in his position in the centres, and he says it is fierce, and even more so with Shane having moved into the 12 jersey. He references Eamonn Sheridan, Eoin Griffin and Guy Armitage and it’s clear that he holds all of them in high regard.
“If you’re not doing your job, they’re there to take your shirt straight away. I think that’s a good thing as well. The more competition you’ve got keeps you honest; you’re not going to start looking for the easy way out. That’s the mentality we need.”
Saturdays win against Tigers comes up, and knowing how it felt as a fan, I wanted to know how it felt for the players.
“Last year we came close, we nearly took it at the end, so going there this year it was a case of stick to the game plan, match them physically, and like I said before, we take it to that 60/70 minute mark, then you know that you’re in it. We were building points in the first half so we knew we were going to be in it, and then when the second half kicked in and we g to 60 and then 70 on the clock, we knew we were in it, and it was just a magnificent effort to close it out. The defence at the end was fantastic. We felt comfortable; the boys just kept coming up and up and up. I think they started on our 10 metre line and then ended up on their ten metre line where we turned the ball over and kicked it out. It was fantastic.”
He almost stops talk of the win dead at that point. He knows, as we do that it was a really great win, but it’s done now. They’ve done the review of the game on Monday, and it’s now put to bed. The players and staff are well aware that it’s just 4 points in what will be along season, and no trophy will be given out based on that result.
Feet are most firmly on the ground within the group, and prep is underway for this week’s visit of the champions. That is now the focus and the coaching team and senior player group have been putting in a lot of work identifying what needs to be done to beat the Saints on Saturday. It’s going to be about staying on task. He won’t give anything away, but there is a plan, and everyone knows the role in it. If the guys can execute, then there is confidence that the right result will be achieved.
My time is up, as there are proper reporters waiting on the end of a telephone to speak with Fergus and the rest of the guys on media duty this week. I’m grateful for the time that I’ve been given, and it’s been a pleasure chatting to a guy, who isn’t a big name, but you know will be out there giving absolutely everything any time he is wearing a London Irish jersey.
Thank you Fergus Mulchrone, and the very best of luck this weekend against Northampton Saints.
COME ON YOU IRISH!!!