Borders College

Josh definitely in with a sporting chance of realising his rugby ambitions 

Borders College can boast a growing line of students with a talent for rugby, and the latest student to show their worth on the pitch is Josh Mackay, who manages to juggle his full-time NC Painting & Decorating studies with his developing rugby career. Read on for an insight, text by John Smail:

“As an apprentice painter, Josh Mackay is used to putting a gloss on things. When it comes to trying to fulfil his rugby dreams, however, the 18-year-old has no illusions about the scale of the challenges ahead. 

Josh Mackay

Josh Mackay playing for Selkirk Youth Club against Tynedale at this season’s Peebles Colts Sevens. (Photo: GRANT KINGHORN PICS) 

Captain of Selkirk Youth Club this season, the young utility forward’s undoubted rugby talents have seen him make seven appearances for Selkirk’s 1st XV between January and March. He also won a place in the Philiphaugh club’s starting line-up at last month’s Melrose Sevens. 

A five-month spell as a member of the Newcastle Falcons Academy has further fuelled Josh’s determination to carve out a career for himself as a professional rugby player, either at hooker or as a flanker. 

“The training and match preparations at the academy were pretty intense,” says Josh, “and taught me to see the game from a totally different perspective. Your skill levels have to be razor-sharp, and the tempo of matches is very high. 

“Everyone’s desperate for the ball, and it’s up to you to match this level of desire. My experience at Newcastle has certainly helped make my mind up about trying to become a professional player.” 

Born in Galashiels, Josh’s first taste of rugby came via Gala Rugby Club’s ‘Mini-Maroons’ section. His family then moved to Selkirk and he became involved with the Selkirk Rhinos mini-rugby set-up, before playing rugby all through Selkirk High School and then with Selkirk Youth Club. 

However, by far the biggest driving force in Josh’s life has been his late mother Elaine, who passed away in 2012. “She was the best role model I could have wished for,” says Josh, “and was an inspiration to me and my brother Sam every day. 

“When times were tough she never stopped smiling, and always encouraged me to keep pushing myself to see how far I could go. 

“I remember her telling me I’d play for Scotland one day, and this has been a huge part of my motivation to be a full-time rugby player. If I don’t manage to achieve this goal, then I’m going to do everything in my power to get as close as I possibly can.” 

Selkirk Youth Club coach Darren Hoggan has also played a massive part in Josh’s development both on and off the rugby field. “Darren and his wife Shirley have opened up their home to me these past six months, and in fact the support I’ve received from a whole range of people in Selkirk has simply been phenomenal, and I can’t thank them enough.” 

To get some perspective on what Josh will have to do if he’s to stand any chance of becoming a professional rugby player, I contacted ex- Scotland skipper Kelly Brown to see if he had any advice for the Selkirk player. 

The former Melrose, Border Reivers and Glasgow Warriors player is in his final season as a pro. player with current club Saracens, and was only too happy to oblige when I asked if he wouldn’t mind sharing the knowledge he’s gleaned over his rugby career with Josh. 

“I would suggest he spend a couple of seasons playing for Selkirk,” said Kelly, “then take stock of where he stands after that. What top coaches look for most in a young player is a good work ethic, plus an ability to take real ownership of their own development,” added the 34-year-old internationalist, who won 64 Scotland caps and led his country on 14 occasions. 

“He also shouldn’t be afraid to challenge his coaches, asking them if there is anything more he could be doing to improve his game and all-round development. 

“Josh will also have to push really hard on strength and conditioning, because if he wants to be a pro. player then he’s got to put on size. There’s nothing stopping him being the fittest man on the pitch, so this is another goal he must have,” added Kelly, who is staying on with the Saracens club as an academy coach. 

“I would also advise Josh to study the world greats in his position, and try to understand why these players are so good at what they do. 

“Personally speaking, I would say physically I was not that gifted or talented, but I did work really hard. One advantage I also had is that I’m 6’ 4”, and size is definitely a consideration in professional rugby. 

“I would also encourage Josh to go out and enjoy his rugby, and last but not least I’d personally like to wish him all the very best in the years ahead.” 

So the ball is now very much in Josh Mackay’s court, as he stands on the threshold of a senior rugby career. 

Entertainer Danny Kaye once said: ‘Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint you can at it.’ 

There seems little doubt this is exactly what 18-year-old apprentice painter Josh Mackay intends to do. With a bit of luck, a brush with rugby greatness awaits.”


Published: Tue 20th Jun, 2017