The unusual reason why Jack Dempsey doesn't do self-doubt

Super Rugby
by Iain Payten

Jack Dempsey isn’t one to entertain self-doubt, even after years of injury set-backs presented countless invitations.

There are two reasons.

The first, argues the confident young flanker, is that despite injuries restricting him to just 21 Super Rugby games in the last four years, Dempsey has been in the NSW 23-man team every time he’s been fit.

“That’s just the facts,” Dempsey shrugs.

“From 16 onwards, I have only missed out due to injury. It is something I came to terms with it. It’s all good.”

The second reason Dempsey doesn’t do self-doubt is a little more unusual, but a whole lot more powerful - and it turned out - hugely valuable during some dark times.

Despite a string of serious injuries either hindering, shortening or cancelling entirely his four Super Rugby seasons, Dempsey somehow still managed to emerge as a genuine Test star for the Wallabies in those same years.

Jack Dempsey wants to be back in action for the Waratahs. Photo: Getty ImagesDempsey, 24, debuted for the Tahs as a youngster in 2015 and played 3 games but a shoulder injury limited him to 11 caps in 2016; the last few as a starter.

He trained with the Wallabies and was taken on the Spring Tour as an apprentice at the end of the year, but plans for a breakout 2017 for Dempsey were dashed when a broken foot injury sidelined him from NSW duty for three months.

He returned for the Tahs in May and had played only three games before he was picked for the June Test series, and then a Wallabies debut against Italy.

That led to Dempsey playing against South Africa and New Zealand later that year; and he was so good in the latter contest (a rare Aussie win in Brisbane) he was named man-of-the-match.

But just as the going was good, a catastrophic hamstring injury playing for the Wallabies against the Barbarians the next weekend saw Dempsey again sidelined for a long-stint.

He missed the whole 2018 Super Rugby season, and given the extent of the hamstring tendon and nerve damage, only returned to rugby nine months later.

Jack Dempsey is closing in on a rugby return. Photo: Getty ImagesAgain though, after only a handful of NRC games, Dempsey was picked by Michael Cheika to play for the Wallabies on the Spring Tour last year, and again he shone in big games with precious little gametime under his belt.

So while he has experienced those dark moments in a lonely rehab room, the bright memories in gold stitched through the setbacks have given Dempsey a strong sense of self-belief: when I am fit, I can play this game.

“The most telling this is when I was going through that long rehab, that was something that almost hit you and you realise. You go “damn, here I am again in rehab, its my fourth year and I have still only played 21 Super games,” Dempsey said.

“But I have been lucky in that sense because there was a very good chance I could have missed out on those Test experiences because they came through the end of periods I’d missed out time on the field.

“I look at it as I have been very privileged to actually still grow as a player during that time, even though its been frustrating and that I haven’t been playing Super Rugby for a while.”

Jack Dempsey had an early exit from the derby. Photo: Getty ImagesDempsey isn’t one to dwell too much either, and you won’t catch him second-guessing in the heat of the contest, like others might after long injury layoffs.

“I have put all that behind me now and it’s a fresh start,” he says.

“I am ready for round one. Last time I played there is only one coach left who is still here, and that’s Daryl.

‘So for me it is kind of like starting again in a whole new team. We have a bunch of new coaches, there’s new guys, a few old ones too, but it’s pretty much feeling like a brand new environment for me.

“I am taking it as a bit of a fresh start and trying to earn the respect of the coaches as well as the platers, and try to show them what I can do to help the team.,

Dempsey will pull on the Waratahs no.8 jumper at Brookvale Oval and have a very unusual mix of emotions. The nerves of a Super Rugby rookie but the composure of an eight-Test backrower.

Jack Dempsey has been on a steep learning curve this year. Photo: WalmsleyBut all that is hugely fascinating too. Dempsey hasn't played at all in the sky blue jersey since emerging as a Test-quality backrower for the Wallabies in late 2017, and again in late 2018. 

He is keen to test himself in Super Rugby again.

“That’s the thing, even though I feel like a bit of a newbie in this team, because it is different and given the success they had last week, I have to remember I have played on big stages in the last couple of years and had some performances which I am proud of,” Dempsey said.

“I have to remember to use that to help my team, and my younger teammates.”