At 29, Mike McCarthy has had to bide his time for an Irish debut.
It would be exaggerating somewhat to say that the idea of donning a green jersey was always a driving force in McCarthy’s life as it’s fair to suggest that his single-mindedness and focus may have been distorted somewhat by the fact that he played underage international rugby for England.
His Anglo-qualification stems from having been born in London. He qualifies as Irish via his Co Mayo roots.
Having played for Ireland as an Under 21, it was his failure to win a place in that age-group’s World Cup squad that drove in the arms of the English in 2002.
His hybrid career also includes having earned a Premiership winner’s medal in the colours of Wasps plus a productive four-year stint with Newcastle after which he rejoined Connacht in the summer of 2007.
Rejoined? Yes, for he had spent 2003/04 in the west of Ireland before departing for north-east England and that profitable sojourn at Kingston Park.
His school was Sedbergh, the alma mater of Will Carling and Will Greenwood.
So it’s not the most Irish of pedigrees, leading Declan Kidney to observe: “He’s got a bit of an accent, but sure we’ll get over it.”
And those anomalies over his background notwithstanding, there is no disputing McCathy’s pleasure at having been chosen to make his debut today.
“I’m just delighted to get a chance,” he beamed in the aftermath of the announcement which informed the media of his place in the starting line-up to face the Scots.
That inclusion could not be more timely for with Kidney required to name a 30-man New Zealand-bound squad on August 22, Stephen Ferris’ on-going injury problems have handed the 6ft 4ins McCarthy a huge opportunity to ensure that he will be occupying one of the seats on the plane.
Last season Connacht were asked to used the lock at number six. They did and he delivered. Now comes the reward.
That verstality may well weigh in his favour, for in a tournament where matches come thick and fast, limited recovery time in the event of injuries makes the ability to play more than one position a huge plus.
With McCarthy able to cover the second row and and blindside bases well, a good display today against Scotland will not be lost on Kidney and his forwards’ coach Gert Smal.
Their thinking could just be about to be vindicated; this could be the moment when he makes himself indispensable as an adaptable squad man.
The big debutant is modest about what finally has happened, his view of the time it has taken to win his first cap being: “It’s just that there is fierce competition. There are a lot of great players out there and I’ve had to wait.”
Elaborating on what it means to have been given a start, McCarthy said: “It’s a really big opportunity and I’m really looking forward to it.
“After a good few weeks of pre-season and hard work, getting the chance to play is the easy part.
“I just want to put in a good shift and hopefully impress all the coaches.”
Kidney extolled McCarthy’s skill and fitness levels, saying: “He’s very athletic. You look at Connacht’s line-out stats; they’ve been excellent, though obviously that comes down to more than a jumper.
“And he’s got good ball-|handling.”
New Zealand beckons.
Radio Ulster and BBC Radio Foyle will have live coverage of Ireland’s series of warm-up games ahead of the World Cup.
Today Ireland take on Scotland at Murrayfield from where Jim Neilly is joined in the commentary box by Edinburgh head
coach and former Irish international Michael Bradley.
Back in the studio, Nikki Gregg is joined by Denis McBride and Simon Best for Rugby Special on BBC Radio Ulster MW and Radio Foyle MW (2pm).
For next Saturday’s Rugby Special (August 13), Nikki is joined in studio by Maurice Field and Jonny Bell as Ireland take on France at Stade Chaban-Delmas in Bordeaux (from 7pm). Commentary comes from Jim Neilly with Denis McBride in tandem.
On August 20, when the French make the return visit to the Aviva Stadium, Rugby Special starts at 4.30pm.
The following week (August 27), England are the visitors to Dublin, with live coverage starting at 2pm.
During the Rugby Special broadcasts, listeners can text their views on 8177.