Out of the West and in at the deep end for Leinster’s Mike McCarthy

Secondrow is targeting a starting place following his summer move from Connacht


Mike McCarthy has spent part of the summer familiarising himself with the south Dublin coastline and, in particular, the delights of swimming in Sandycove’s Forty Foot and also off Coliemore Harbour in Dalkey. It may explain why he chose a house off Booterstown Avenue with a view of Dublin Bay when relocating from Galway, following his decision to sign for Leinster.

Born in London, the Sedbergh-educated secondrow made 112 appearances in his second spell with Connacht after joining from the Newcastle Falcons in 2007. McCarthy (31) first moved to the west in 2003 from Wasps, spending 12 months there.

His abrasive, industrious style, leavened with athleticism and good ball skills, endeared him to the Sportsground faithful and caught the eye of the then national coach Declan Kidney in 2011. He made his debut against Scotland in a warm-up game ahead of the World Cup in New Zealand and since then has made 12 appearances for the national side, starting eight of them.

Joe Schmidt was another to recognise his qualities when Leinster coach last season, persuading him to swap provinces during the summer.

McCarthy moved his belongings into his new residence on the day Leinster contested the RaboDirect Pro12 final against Ulster at the RDS. He says, smiling: “The whole process took longer than I anticipated and I got there seconds before the kickoff. I promise I saw the entire 80 minutes.”

Summer tour
He then travelled with Ireland on their summer tour of North America, starting in the game against the USA and coming on as a replacement against Canada.

He accompanied 12 of his Irish team-mates on a three-night jaunt to Las Vegas, sharing a room with the London Irish-bound Jamie Hagan and new Munster captain, Peter O’Mahony.

McCarthy underwent minor elbow surgery on his return and squeezed in a two-week holiday in Majorca before reporting for pre-season training with Leinster.

Matt O’Connor has taken over from Schmidt and McCarthy says the former Leicester Tigers coach is a tough but fair taskmaster with a good sense of humour.

He admitted: “I wouldn’t say anyone actually enjoys pre-season training but it gets easier as the weeks pass. You certainly won’t notice it on a daily basis initially but you do appreciate that there are no shortcuts to where you want to go. Joe [Schmidt] is an unbelievable coach from everything I have heard about him and what he’s achieved speaks for itself. I’m sure he’ll bring that to the Ireland job.

“Matt has come in and put his own stamp on things. He’s good fun off the pitch and has no problem taking the mickey out of the lads. However in training, there’s no messing. He’s very authoritative, shouting orders. Matt’s very positive and innovative in the way he wants us to play.”

New systems
In terms of adapting to his new team-mates, McCarthy says: “Obviously there are new calls and plays to be learned when you move. Homework is part of the job. A new coach coming in means everyone’s in the same boat. Our pre-season games are an opportunity to refine patterns and get used to systems.”

McCarthy admits that at this point he’s just keen to play matches and may have that opportunity when the Northampton Saints visit Donnybrook on Friday.

“You look at what Leinster have achieved over several years and you can’t help but relish the opportunity to try and play a part in maintaining that run of trophies.”

McCarthy played in four of Ireland’s Six Nations matches last season and the two on the summer tour. He’ll have ambitions when it comes to the autumn test series. Samoa, Australia and New Zealand arrive in November, when Schmidt will put his shape on the national side.

As far as McCarthy is concerned that’s a dot on his playing horizon. “I have personal goals for the season and then there are those we have outlined as a team at Leinster. My attitude is to work as hard as I can and try and secure a starting position.

“I know it sounds clichéd but there is massive competition for places and great players who are fighting it out.

“You have to take the opportunities because if you don’t someone else will.”

He realises that this must be accomplished within team parameters. There’s no point in playing like an individual in that environment.

“My priority is to play well for Leinster and if that’s good enough then others will decide whether it merits a place in the national side.”