McCarthy set to accept Leinster's three-year deal
Mike McCarthy is set to leave Connacht at the end of the season in order to take up an offer of a three-year contract from back-to-back European champions Leinster. The 31-year-old has become a prized asset but the news has greatly disappointed Connacht, with whom McCarthy launched his Ireland career, and who had offered him a matching three-year deal to extend his stay with the province.
The London-born lock is in his fifth consecutive season with Connacht, having also played with them in 2003-04. McCarthy has played over 100 times for the westerners, where his conversion into a tightsided scrummager augmented his huge work-rate and ball carrying and helped launch his Test career.
He won his fifth and sixth caps in the autumn games against South Africa, when he was man of the match, and Argentina, and was man of the match again in Connacht’s Heineken Cup win last Friday over Biarritz, which yesterday prompted club president Serge Blanco to put head coaches Serge Mihas and Jack Isaac on gardening leave ahead of Friday’s return meeting in south-west France.
Leinster have been somewhat cursed in their attempts to solve a problem position ever since they were unable to hold on to Nathan Hines, with South African imports such as Steven Sykes and latterly Quinn Roux both suffering long-term injuries either side of a productive three-month deal at the end of last season with All Blacks’ World Cup winner Brad Thorn.
Joe Schmidt and co have clearly decided to go native in a bid to find a foil for Leo Cullen and perhaps even his longer-term replacement, and despite the entreaties of Connacht – who also sought the help of the IRFU to retain the player – McCarthy has opted to tread what has become a well-worn path to Leinster.
The traffic used to flow the other way, and still does to a degree, and the recent cases of Fionn Carr, Jamie Hagan and Seán Cronin (all of whom would surely have seen more game time in the Heineken Cup had they remained in the last two seasons) would not suggest the grass is always greener east of Athlone.
But then again, they have won two Heineken Cups apiece and not surprisingly perhaps, McCarthy has evidently found the lure of working with Schmidt and Heineken Cup holders too difficult to reject, and at least the matter has been resolved well in advance of next season.
In the last year or so McCarthy has jumped to the top of the queue to fill the void created by Paul O’Connell’s injury problems, and Munster yesterday confirmed O’Connell will see a specialist in the new year in relation to a lower back complaint that has sidelined him for the past two months.