Jack Cooke reflects on ‘crazy’ rise from club mascot to London Irish captain
One-time mascot Jack Cooke will take a moment to pinch himself before leading out London Irish for Sunday’s Premiership Cup final against Exeter in Brentford.
Back-rower Cooke grew up in Wokingham and was a season-ticket holder at the Exiles, even walking out holding Bob Casey’s hand on the day he was club mascot aged eight, and the former Bracknell RFC junior player still cannot quite fathom his progress.
“It’s a pretty amazing feeling for me personally and for my family and everything,” Cooke told Standard Sport.
“Being a supporter, going to all the games, being a season-ticket holder, all sorts of things, and now leading the team out is a pretty amazing feeling. It’s an honour for me.
“I grew up in Wokingham, played for Bracknell from four or five to 16. Then I joined the AASE program at London Irish, and when I was 18 I got into the gold academy and from there signed a three-year senior academy contract. And now it’s my sixth season here.
“I never thought of myself as a captain growing up. It’s crazy thinking about when I ran out as mascot, watching those games, hearing about those names now. I always keep that in the back of my mind.
“The first time I captained the club I actually got a text from Bob Casey, just saying ‘amazing, good luck today’. It was a pretty special moment. I was there looking at my phone and Bob Casey’s texting me when before I ran out holding his hand as an eight-year-old.
“The main influence for me at the club has been Dec Danaher, he’s someone I watched pretty much all the way through his career. And then when I joined at 17, he was then my forwards coach in the academy, and he moved up to the senior academy with me, then the first team too.
“I always keep in the back of my mind what he’s actually done for the club and the respect I have for him. I have a laugh and a joke with him but I always remember what he’s actually done for the club.”
The Premiership Cup’s development pathway has helped launch a host of stellar careers, with Michael Dykes the latest to flourish at Irish. Dykes bagged a hat-trick on his Premiership debut in Irish’s 42-24 victory over Harlequins in January.
Henry Arundell stood out in the Premiership Cup last season too – and will now make his full Test debut for England against Ireland in Dublin tomorrow.
“The Premiership Cup is such a good way for lads on the fringe to showcase what they do, show how they can play, and show that to the first team coaches,” he added. “And you can see a big amount of players in our squad who started in the Prem Cup, and are now even playing for England.
There really is a pathway for getting into the first team and beyond.
“That’s what Henry did last year, he played two or three games in the Prem Cup, went on to start for the first team and in that same season he went on to play for England. It shows there really is a pathway for getting into the first team and beyond.
“As a squad we’ve done really well, and we’re looking forward to it. We’re happy with how we played in all those games but there’s still plenty we can improve. Exeter will always have a big maul and a good scrum. So we’ve got to front up to that.”
London Irish team to face Exeter: J Stokes; M Williams, W Joseph, T Hitchcock, M Dykes; J Atkins, H O’Sullivan; F Gigena, I Ruiz, L Chawatama; J Caulfield, C Munga; J Cooke (capt), J Basham, S Fa’aso’o. Replacements: M Cornish, T Haffar, C Parker, E Scragg, JM Gonzalez, C Englefield, E Poolman, A Harmes.