Leinster v Toulon: Mike McCarthy to join 300 club
Leinster secondrow will make milestone appearance when Toulon visit the Aviva
Mike McCarthy’s form this season suggests he is capable of extending his career. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Saturday’s European Champions Cup game at the Aviva Stadium is a landmark game for Mike McCarthy. Since making his professional senior debut for Wasps as a replacement against Sale Sharks 15 seasons ago, he has played 299 competitive club games for the London club, Connacht, Newcastle and Leinster. He’s durable alright.
He was informed of his looming milestone in advance of the postponed Pro12 game away to Glasgow a fortnight ago by Leinster press officer Marcus Ó Buachalla; ensuring last week’s game against Toulon would set up the milestone in an entirely suitable setting at the Aviva for the rematch.
“I’m quite far into my journey, I suppose. But it seems like a lot of games. I suppose if I was a car, I’d be an old banger!” he says, self-deprecatingly.
Self-styled old banger he may be, with a fair few miles on the clock, but McCarthy is a relatively late developer who has no inclination to call a halt to the journey just yet.
Although out of contract at the end of the season, he landed at Leinster the summer after their third Heineken Cup. There was a league title in that first season, along with a European Challenge Cup, but ideally he’d like to stay with the province a few more years and win some silverware.
“I recently was 34 so I’m at the other end of Josh van der Flier, but I hope to kick on. And the body is good. I hope to keep on playing for another two or three years. I’m up at the end of this season. Hopefully I’ll be here for another few years.
“It’s obviously a difficult period. We’ve lost our three opening games but I love playing here at Leinster, I love Dublin and I’m really enjoying it.”
As former Leinster locks Nathan Hines and Brad Thorn, along with Simon Shaw, Bakkies Botha and more can testify, locks tend to carry on longer than most. The evidence this season confirms McCarthy is well capable of that.
Renowned for his scrummaging on the tight head side, it was noticeable how the Leinster scrum struggled after he departed with concussion early in the second-half against Wasps and particularly in the carnage that followed in Bath a week later without him. It was the same story in the very first scrum after he was replaced in the Stade Felix Mayol last Sunday.
Although the ball-carrying that was a feature of his game, especially with Connacht, has not been so pronounced, McCarthy has been putting himself about at the breakdown and in defence, where he made eight tackles against Toulon and missed none. There were good hits too, McCarthy pushing up hard and being a tad unlucky with one penalty.
“I’m happy enough,” he says of his form. “I’m my own biggest critic, so there’s plenty for me to work on. I’ll be looking for a big performance from myself on Saturday.”
A dependable as well as durable pro who has played in 59 of Leinster’s 74 games since his arrival in the summer of 2013, McCarthy’s value to Leinster is liable to be even more pronounced when Devin Toner is away on international duty during the Six Nations.
Of course, with Paul O’Connell retired and Iain Henderson another long-term hamstring victim, McCarthy is also entitled to harbour hopes of more Irish caps to add to the 17 he has accumulated, as well as the 300 club games.
Sense of occasion
Landmark game or not for McCarthy, the sense of occasion and the scale of the opposition gives Leinster every incentive, regardless of whether it will ultimately matter a hoot in the group’s final analysis.
“They’re very impressive, aren’t they? It’s like the World XV. They’ve won it the last number of times and I can’t speak more highly of them. They’re a great side,” says McCarthy, who nevertheless says there were enough positives in the latest of three defeats away to Toulon to suggest they can turn them over when finally hosting them for the first time.
“We need to win at the weekend and I think we’re quite capable of winning. There are plenty of positives to take from the game at the weekend – obviously a lot of work-ons as well. I feel we were well into the game. I think at around 50 minutes we had a chance to go ahead and it’s just a shame we didn’t kick on from there.
“We struggled at the breakdown and got on the wrong side of the ref, gave away a lot of penalties.
“I suppose playing Toulon for 20 minutes with 14 men is a big ask but we haven’t played Toulon at home so I think that can give us confidence and a bit more of a chance.
“I think 42,000 tickets have been sold so we’re very excited to get out there at the Aviva and play in front of our home fans, put on a performance and hopefully get the result.”