From a young age, all Paddy Jackson wanted to do was play rugby.
Having won the Schools Cup with Methody in 2008, Jackson made the seamless transition into senior rugby with Ulster.
His natural composure, nerveless goal-kicking and ability to exploit gaps in the opposition defence were attributes that soon caught the attention of the Ireland selectors and he went on to amass 25 international caps.
Here, he chats to Ulster Rugby Lad about his passion for the game and the next chapter of his remarkable career.
Who was your biggest influence growing up (inside or outside of rugby)?
My family are rugby mad so growing up I was surrounded by rugby. My mum and dad were at every game and picked me up from every training session. They were and still are always there for me.
Growing up trying to compete against my older brother Paul gave me tough skin and playing in the garden against Paul and his friends who were older and bigger stood me in good stead not being the biggest player myself!
Other influences being my Uncles Stan and Graham. Real old school players and had a lot of great stories. Stan’s sons / my cousins Mike and Barry always put me under pressure to never drop the ball and slagged the hell out of me if I did.. they gave me a competitive edge. These are just a few of my family members who I’m grateful to.
When did you realise you had a chance of making it as a professional rugby player?
When I was about 10 years old. It’s all I have ever wanted to do and I was always confident in myself.
What are your favourite memories of playing for Ulster?
Being lucky to play with my mates and guys I came through under age with… Iain Henderson, Luke Marshall, Stuart Olding, Craig Gilroy, Mike Allen, Kyle McCall.
Also playing in the Heineken Cup final.
What did it feel like when you got your first cap for Ulster and Ireland?
Both felt like it was where I was supposed to be, where I belonged.
What would you be doing if you weren’t playing professional rugby?
When I’m at training and see the groundsmen go past on their lawn mowers or tractors I think to myself “that looks class.” Being outside all day and having pride in their work and pitches. That’d be cool.
How has a failure or apparent failure set you up for a later success?
When you’re younger you always hear, “learn from your failures” or “failures make you stronger.” I remember never buying into that and thinking I knew best. Through time and experience I have realised it truly is where the most profound learnings come from.
I have learnt the most from my worst games and once you come back from that failure you learn how to deal with adversity and learn how to manage your thought processes on the pitch.
What obsessions do you explore in your free time?
I like to paint and be with my dog.
What advice would you give your 17 year old self?
Aim to be the best at everything you do.
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Live in the moment.
What is the worst advice you see or hear being dispensed in the rugby world?
You don’t hear anyone give this advice but I find it frustrating to see players doing loads of weights at the expense of practicing rugby skills.
When you think of the word ‘successful’ who’s the first person who comes to mind and why?
Rory Best. He is Ireland most successful captain of all time and hopefully more to come!
What is your favourite documentary or movie?
Movie – Lion King / In Bruges or any film with Spider-Man in it!
Documentary – Icarus
What do the first 60 minutes of your day look like? Any daily rituals?
I can’t remember I’m always so tired!
How do you get in the right mind-set before a game?
Relax and visualisation. I visualise different scenarios in my mind. For example, my kicking routine, body language or tackle technique.
What topic would you speak about if you were asked to give a TED talk on something outside of rugby?
Mindset and dealing with problems. Or my Dog Parker.
Do you have a quote you live your life by or think of often?
I don’t live by a quote but I am quite a relaxed person and often think that there’s always people much worse of than yourself so don’t overthink, relax and be kind.
What is the best/most worthwhile purchase/investment you’ve made?
Big comfy bed.
What was playing in France like? What did you learn?
I loved being in France and was very lucky to live in Perpignan for a year. Our season was very difficult and we didn’t achieve what we set out to do but it was an incredible life experience.
I would have loved to have stayed longer but a great opportunity arose with London Irish. I loved trying to learn the language and buy into the culture. I made a lot of friends and will miss them all.
London Irish have made a number of big signings and you will reunite with Les Kiss and Declan Kidney in London. What are your thoughts/expectations on joining a club with such big ambitions?
I am incredibly excited to get started and reunited with a few old teammates as well. Being closer to home is also great – I will be able to see my family and girlfriend more.
It’s a very exciting time for the club and they’ve made some great signings. We have a big challenge before us. As new players we need to settle fast and earn the respect of the players and management who have done so well to get the club to this point. It’s a mix of new and experienced players so I think we can only set our collective expectations once we all meet. And I can’t wait!