By Damian Dolan
Fergus Mulchrone can think of no better way of marking his 100th appearance for London Irish, than sealing the club’s promotion back to the Aviva Premiership.
The Exiles welcome Hartpury College to Madejski Stadium on Sunday (KO 3pm) knowing that victory could wrap up the Greene King IPA Championship title, provided closest rivals Ealing Trailfinders don’t win in Jersey.
If selected, Hartpury will be Mulchrone’s 100th appearance for the club – after fighting his way back from a potentially season ending injury – and he’s therefore hoping to make it a double celebration.
Declan Kidney’s Exiles go into Round 20 eight points clear at the top of the Championship with just three rounds to go.
Ealing make the difficult trip to St Peter 24 hours earlier, so Irish will know exactly what they need to do come kick-off in Reading.
“It would be an unbelievable way to finish the season – to make my 100th appearance and for us to win promotion,” Mulchone told the Irish World.
“The club deserves to be back up in the Premiership.”
But not just for himself, or the rest of the players and staff, but also or the club’s loyal supporters.
“It would be great if we could do it for them – they’ve been turning out week in, week out,” he added.
“They’ve been getting a real party atmosphere going at the MadStad and they deserve it.
“But if not, we’ll just focus on the next game which is Richmond.”
After two tough run ins with Hartpury already this season, Mulchrone says the Exiles will be taking nothing for granted.
“They’ve got some good youngsters and they’ve brought in some Gloucester and Bristol players to try and help keep them up,” he said.
“But we’re just focused on us and how we can come away with the win at the Madejski on Sunday.”
Mulchrone’s appearance in the Exiles’ away win at Cornish Pirates last time out was his first since suffering a MCL Grade 3 tear to his right knee in January.
It was initially thought that is could rule him out for the remainder of the season.
But an “aggressive” rehab programme, in a bid to get back for the business end of the season, would bring its reward.
“When the injury happened and I was waiting on the scan, we thought it might be a Grade 1 or 2 [tear], but it was actually worse than we thought,” said Mulchrone.
“It’s testament to Brian O’Leary and the rest of the London Irish medical team that I managed to get back within 5-6 weeks. They’re the reason I got back so quickly.
“It was great to get out against Pirates, and now I’m hoping to get one more [game] so I can at least get to my 100.”
Who’s coming?! 🙋♂️🙋♀️
— London Irish (@LiRFC) April 8, 2019
The Exiles won 35-7 at Mennaye Field thanks to tries from Tom Stephenson (2), Ben Meehan (2) and Ben Loader, at a venue where they suffered a defeat on a sodden and miserable December day, albeit in the Championship Cup.
“We weren’t so lucky when we went down there in the cup, they beat us up a bit, so we had a point to prove this time,” said Mulchrone.
“It was a good firm track and the sun was shining.
“We knew we needed to concentrate, win the physical battle and hold it out for 80 minutes, which we did. The boys were very happy with the performance.”
Mulchrone joined Irish from Rotherham Titans in 2013 and was part of the Exiles side which won the Championship in 2016/17, following the club’s relegation from the Premiership.
He began his rugby career at Saint Ambrose College in Manchester before joining the academy at Sale Sharks.
📹 | REACTION: George Skivington was pleased with the team’s display on Saturday but insists the squad are full focused on the remaining three league fixtures.
— London Irish (@LiRFC) April 1, 2019
Mulchrone, whose father is from Belfast and whose parents now live in Crookhaven in south-west Cork, believes it’s the players’ responsibility to take the club back to where it should be.
“When you’re relegated you feel a responsibility to get the club back into a better position, with the investment of our owners, Mick Crossan especially, and all the supporters who turn out week in, week out,” he said.
“We know as a group that we have a responsibility to get the club back up to the Premiership, and to keep it there.”
And with a move back to London and into the Brentford Community Stadium to come in 2020 – one Mulchrone describes as “fantastic” for the club – he believes the future is looking bright.
“The Irish support in and around London is huge and hopefully those supporters who have been so loyal to the club in Reading will follow London Irish to Brentford, and make it a big party every week,” he said.
First, the Exiles need to secure promotion, and they’re on the verge of that.