Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

McCarthy hungry for power play

The term 'slow burner' springs to mind when trying to assess Michael Patrick McCarthy's emergence as a top-flight rugby professional. And certainly his path to becoming an Irish international has been 'different'.

London born and educated at Sodbergh School which has quite a rugby pedigree, he joined Wasps in 2001. The following year he was a member of England's Under 21s World Cup group. Irish international honours were not on his radar. They are now, though; today  the lock with the English accent wins his ninth cap.

McCarthy admitted to having been "a bit gutted" at missing out against Scotland, a medial ligament injury to his right knee having sidelined him for the trip to Edinburgh following starts in each of Ireland's four previous Tests.

It was an understandable reaction; when you have waited to the age of 29 for your international debut and then, in the absence of Paul O'Connell, have gone on to cement your place in the team, the last thing you need is an injury to break the momentum.

Delighted to be back, ahead of schedule, he confirmed: "I've trained with the boys and I've had no problems, so I'm 100%. I was maybe doubtful last week until I'd got through three sessions but I've done those now so it's all good.

"I'm delighted to have healed up really quickly – maybe a bit faster than I thought," he admitted. "I thought maybe I would miss the rest of the championship so I'm delighted to be back in."

The fact that he had to wait so long to break through served only to sharpen his hunger for international recognition. When he was told which areas of his game required work, he applied himself to improving those. He responded positively to the demands for physical changes, too.

"For playing on the tight-head side I had to put a small bit of weight on. I put a couple of kilograms on and I suppose I could put on a couple more so long as I'm able to carry it," he revealed.

That does not amount to unfettered freedom to eat what he wants, however. Smiling at the suggestion that it might he explained: "Not when you're not playing; then it's pretty dangerous.

"I was in camp the week before when I wasn't playing and there was all this amazing food so that was pretty tough. If you're playing 80 minutes a week you really need to fuel up and try to keep that weight on.

"The food here (Carton House) is great. There's a lot of choice and it's all pretty healthy. My favourite I think would be the chicken Fajitas."

Asked how many of those he could manage his quick-fire reply was: "Not as many as Rossy!" (Mike Ross).

Playing behind the tight-head is different to packing down in support of the number one. McCarthy's explanation was: "I think on the tight-head side you know you're going to be scrummaging a bit longer, so when you come up from the scrum you're maybe slightly more tired than if you were scrummaging on the left.

"It's just more of a scrummaging role. I know the other side is a scrummaging role as well, but the right hand side you're scrummaging longer, basically."

Believe it or not, he actually started out as a winger. He smiles at the thought of it now.

"I worked hard with Dan McFarland and Gert Smal, picked up a lot of useful information and learned from other players," is his description of his emergence as an international lock/back row forward.

When the season ends he will be leaving Connacht to join Leinster.

"I'm looking forward to the new challenge," he said. "I've had a great time with Connacht. Galway's a great place and I absolutely love the club so it was a tough decision.

"But it's done now and I'm excited, looking forward to the new challenge. They (Leinster) have a great squad, massive strength in depth, so if you aren't performing you won't be playing."

It is unlikely that the move will do his Irish prospects any harm. And undoubtedly the westerners will miss their sole representative in today's  Ireland team to face France for since first enlisting from Wasps 10 years ago he has been arguably their most consistent player.

But initially the move did not work out. Indeed, inside a year he returned to England where he spent three seasons with Newcastle Falcons whose supporters loved him for his hard, aggressive, wholly committed approach. All told he made 49 Premiership appearances in their colours, winning the Supporters' Player of the Season award in 2006.

But in 2007 he rejoined Connacht and at the second time of asking the move proved hugely successful. McCarthy clocked up his 100th appearance for the western province in December 2010 and the following month he was called into the Ireland squad for the 2011 Six Nations.

At last, in August of that year, his international debut came in the World Cup warm-up game against Scotland at Murrayfield. Finally the caps are coming thick and fast.

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