No career is linear and two and a half years older and wiser since the 2019 World Cup, Jack Carty is back in the Irish Six Nations squad on merit. His ambition is to earn some quality game time although akin to the understudies during Rory Best's time as captain, Carty plays in the same specialist position as the latter's successor, Johnny Sexton.
“I’d like to get quality game time and, I suppose, be comfortable in the environment, which I have been so far. I’d like to think that if I do get the opportunity to get game time I’ll add to the team.”
“That’s what we’re all striving for. Johnny has been there, done that, and he’s captain so I think if and when he is fit, he’ll be starting. For me, if the opportunity is there, I need to have the confidence and authority around me that Johnny gives. That will give confidence then to all the other players.”
To some degree it's as if a circle has been completed for the Connacht outhalf. Several other 10s have been in the mix during the intervening period, but as with the World Cup, Sexton, Joey Carbery and Carty are the trio once again.
Yet although many would feel Carty was a scapegoat for the 2019 World Cup underachievement, he doesn’t concur.
“Not necessarily. Initially, when I did come back from the World Cup, my form wasn’t good enough to warrant selection,” he admits with typical candour.
“In Connacht, Conor Fitz(gerald) was playing incredible rugby. When I came back, it was well documented that I was nearly trying too hard. I maybe saw myself as (Irish) second choice and wanted to really kick on and maybe forced things on my end. As a 10, if you look to force things, you’re going to be in trouble.
“What has helped me is the way we’re trying to play in Connacht and the way Ireland play. There are some similarities. It’s been nice that I’ve had to evolve as a player from what I’ve done previously until this season.”
Speaking from the squad's week-long training camp in the Algarve, nor does he feel he has a point to prove.
“I don’t think so, definitely not to myself anyways. Maybe the narrative up until now has probably been since the World Cup and it would be nice to maybe close that chapter if I get on the field.
“It has been a long journey up and down. Every player in their career goes through periods of non-selection and I think it’s about how you learn from that. I think I’ve learned a lot about myself and my team-mates have learned a lot about me. It’s great to be back in the set-up and hopefully the next couple of weeks are good to me.”
When Carty only agreed a one-year extension for this season, there must have been fears in Connacht that he might then move on. But signing a new three-year deal was both a statement of belief in his home province and himself to get back into the Irish squad.
“It was always the goal. I think maybe when you try to focus too heavily on a goal, you might get lost in the part in between. I certainly did that for a period of time. It wasn’t until I stopped worrying about it and got back to what I had to do daily, weekly, monthly, that I was able to slowly get back to where I am now.
“That being said, I’m still not where I want to be. I’m going to worry about the end goal when that comes about.”
“Previously I was so hell bent on getting to that end goal, that off the field I was probably a disaster to be around at times. When I play best I have a smile on my face. If I can set up things off the field to be in a place where it needs to be, it enables me to excel and do what I want to on the pitch.
“For many years I probably looked like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders, but now I really enjoy what I’m doing. I’m enjoying this environment, it’s been brilliant. There are similarities, but I’d like to think there’s a lot more enjoyment in it for me (compared to 2019).”
Carty attributes much of his more relaxed mindset and improved game to Friend, who has made him captain at Connacht.
“A wonderful coach, his capacity for human empathy and emotional intelligence is massive. He’s a coach second, and firstly he’s there as support staff. It’s all-encompassing in how he does that.
“Fifty per cent of it would be on the field, but some of the stuff he does off the field for players; I’ve seen him go leaps and bounds for certain players over the years. A lot of that stuff wouldn’t be known, and that’s how Friendy likes it. It speaks volumes for the kind of person he is.
“At the start of the season, I was a bit wary about how it was going to go for me but credit has to go to Mossy (Lawlor), Collie (Tucker), Pete (Wilkins) and Friendy in terms of how they went about that change in me and then the way we were playing as a team.”
Carty has generally been the player to pull the strings with Connacht’s impressive array of launch plays and in phased attack, by carrying the ball straight and to the line to use the well-timed runs of teammates off the ball.
This has improved what he calls “the squareness part” of his game, admitting: “I was quite lateral in attack. In other years it worked for us, but I probably wasn’t as much of a threat on the ball, and now with the way we try to play in Connacht I can bring other players into the game, other players are seeing what I’m seeing and there is more fluidity in how we’re playing. I’m hoping to bring that to the Irish team as well.”
Even when his attack game wasn’t where it wanted to be, Carty maintained his desire in defence, while his repertoire of kicks out of hand ought to suit the Test arena, not least his execution of 50:22s.
His goal-kicking has been a stick to beat him with, albeit it doesn’t take into account he plays every second game next to the Atlantic, prompting Andrew Trimble to suggest Carty’s ratio should come with an asterisk: Lives in Galway.
“Look, there’s two or three there that if I got I’d certainly be up towards more like 78/79 per cent. I’m ballpark 75 per cent at the moment. It’s those lapses in concentration but I’m delighted with how the last two weeks went and especially in Europe. It’s just about consistently nailing the bread and butter ones that you’re meant to get.”
Then he adds with a smile: “If you could put in that asterisk with the ones that are in Galway that would be great!”