For a man who is still arguably seen as first-choice at Leinster, and who went to the 2019 World Cup as one of the top two scrum-halves in the country, that’s a long time to be left out in the international wilderness.
Since Andy Farrell took over as Ireland head coach, he has been an avid admirer of Jamison Gibson-Park, who has invariably justified the faith shown in him, not least last month when he played a key role in the wins over New Zealand and Japan.
The coming weeks promise to be fascinating, in terms of who Leinster opt to start in the Heineken Champions Cup – and although Gibson-Park is still working his way back from a thigh injury, Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster have generally opted for McGrath.
A reliable leader within the Leinster squad, McGrath knows he is under more pressure than ever for his place in the team, but a recent recall to the Ireland squad was a timely boost.
“There have definitely been some difficult days,” he admitted.
“I like to think I’m still relatively young at 28, even though the age of the squad now is very young.
“I wouldn’t say the door had been shut, but there were definitely days when I wasn’t sure if I was going to get back in, so that’s why I was surprised to get the call to get back in. I just really enjoyed being a part of the squad.
“It has been very difficult, obviously, when you look on and you play with a lot of lads who are in there. You definitely miss playing for Ireland and being involved. It’s been a tough couple of years, but you’ve also got to look at it that the only way you’re going to get back in is if you keep playing well for Leinster.
“So that’s exactly where my focus is on. If I play well for Leinster, hopefully I’ll get picked for Ireland again.
“It’s nice to know you’re not that far away, and who knows what can happen in the future.”
By his own admission, McGrath wasn’t at his best in last weekend’s defeat to Ulster, but with another mouth-watering interpro derby to come at home to Connacht tomorrow night, he will get a chance to make amends.
“I enjoyed the first five games (of the season), I thought I was doing pretty well, there was a bit of a break then which was very unusual,” he added.
“I was hoping to be a bit sharper at the weekend just gone by, but I think we were all off a couple of per cent – and Ulster were obviously much better than us on the day. Hopefully we get a bit of a reaction this week.”