COUNTRY CROWN: Greener pastures for rural rugby star
ED MCGRATH personifies what country rugby is about.
Born and bred on a cattle farm, McGrath goes about his work on the rugby field much the same as he does at his 25-hectare property near Ulmarra. He's not afraid to roll up his sleeves, get dirty, and focus on the job at hand.
McGrath has experienced some tough times both on the land and on the footy field. Drought, fires and wins few and far between, the popular Redmen back-rower still manages to remain positive.
Grafton only managed two victories this season, but for McGrath, every cloud has a silver lining.
For the second year running, McGrath has been named the Far North Coast Zone Best and Fairest. Add to that a perfect winter, lime-green paddocks, decent cattle prices, and all of a sudden 2020 hasn't been all that bad.
"Being named the zone's best player for the second season was a huge surprise," McGrath said at his Calliope property during the week.
"I am still in a bit of shock as the Redmen struggled this season and there are so many quality players playing in the Far North Coast competition.
"It adds to a pretty good year for me personally but last year was extremely difficult. Everyone on the land went through some hard times with drought and fires but this year it has been close to perfect.
"We've had the right amount of winter rain and the cattle markets are up, so I'm pretty happy at the moment."
A hard-graft no-nonsense player, McGrath has been physically dominant this season. He may not possess the silky skills of Lennox Head's Berrick Barnes or Wollongbar's Ben Damen, but what he does have is a natural lust for contact.
"I just basically try and do what (Redmen captain Kyle) Hancock tells me to do," McGrath said with a wry grin.
"But honestly, my teammates say the less I think the better I play, I don't like to complicate things.
"It's basically run hard and tackle hard. It's always been my philosophy to try and drag three players with me every time I run the ball."
A down-to-earth country lad, McGrath admits he thought about venturing down to the big smoke to try his luck on a much bigger stage but commitments to the family farm and the latest COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to that.
"I definitely thought about giving it a go but changed my mind at the last minute," he said.
"It ended up being the right move with the impacts of the coronavirus especially in Sydney.
"I've also worked hard to set this block up and improve the farm so it would have been a backward step."
At 27, McGrath reckons he'll run around next season for the Redmen, but until then, it's back to the daily chores of feeding the cows, rotating the cattle through a series of paddocks and regularly checking his fences.