LAST YEAR, ONE of Cathal Marsh’s old school coaches, Greg McWilliams, mentioned to him that a new professional rugby competition was launching in North America.
Still a Leinster player at that stage, Marsh admits he didn’t put too much thought into the former St Michael’s teacher’s words at that time but the wheels had been subtly set in motion by McWilliams, who is now USA’s attack coach.
Fast forward a year and talented out-half Marsh is signed up to play Major League Rugby [MLR].
Marsh will be playing Major League Rugby in 2019. Source: Mike Sheehan/INPHO
The 26-year-old, who left his native province at the end of last season, has joined Rugby United New York [RUNY] on a two-year deal in what is a major coup for the club and MLR as a competition.
MLR enjoyed a highly-promising first season this year, with the Seattle Seawolves prevailing, and will expand to nine teams in 2019 with the introduction of RUNY and the Ontario Arrows in Canada.
“James English, the general manager, got onto me in July and he just seemed very ambitious with where they wanted to go,” says Marsh of how his move came about.
“I guess he has one of the easier jobs attracting people to New York! He had a good vision, the club had recruited really well and James just sold the league and the city to me, so it didn’t take long to make up my mind.”
Marsh, who doesn’t have any US family connections, may be excited about moving to the States, but RUNY are equally excited about having captured him ahead of next season.
In Marsh, they get a creative playmaker who has played in the Heineken Champions Cup and made a total of 26 appearances for Leinster.
Many felt the St Mary’s man should have featured more prominently for Leinster in the past two seasons, but the emergence of Joey Carbery and Ross Byrne, as well as the presence of Johnny Sexton, meant Marsh had decided last year that it was time to move on.
“I had come to terms with leaving probably before Christmas time,” he says. “It wasn’t that tough a conversation to have with Leo [Cullen] really. He sort of asked me after Christmas where my head was at and, at that stage, Ross, Joey and Johnny were well established and I couldn’t really see things changing.
Marsh in action for Leinster last season. Source: Ryan Wilkisky/INPHO
“I loved playing with the As and things like that when you’re younger but I didn’t want to play another season there.
“I’m not even sure if they would have wanted me around but I didn’t really want another season on the outskirts there, playing for the As, so I was ready to move on. I’m 26-years-old now so I should be coming into my peak.
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“I just wanted to play and it will be good to be one of the main men in New York and just get some game time.”
A former Ireland U20 international, Marsh made his Leinster debut in 2013 while still in the academy and advanced onto a senior contract in 2015.
His first season as a senior player in 2015/16 was excellent as he made eight starts in the number 10 shirt, as well as a further five off the bench. The future looked bright, but a combination of injuries and the aforementioned competition slowed his progress.