McCarthy earns Ireland squad spot
Uncapped Connacht forward Mike McCarthy has been named in a 32-man Ireland squad for this season's RBS 6 Nations Championship.
The 29-year-old back-row player, who previously played for Newcastle, is rewarded following consistently impressive displays in this season's Magners League.
Leinster back Luke Fitzgerald and Ulster hooker Rory Best return after suffering injuries during Ireland's autumn Test series, but Leicester captain Geordan Murphy misses out.
The Tigers full-back suffered a serious ankle injury during his club's Aviva Premiership win against Northampton earlier this month, and it is thought he could struggle to play again this season.
And there is also no place for Munster scrum-half Tomas O'Leary, who has to be content with a place in the Irish Wolfhounds squad as Eoin Reddan and Peter Stringer are preferred as the senior number nines.
Coach Declan Kidney said: "As always, the selection of the squad is never an easy one, but certainly the level of competition in each position is probably as great as it has ever been over the last two years.
"Players have been really pushing their performances for their provinces, so that level of competition can only be good. That translates into more competition for each place in the squad, and then for the first selection against Italy, which can only be a good thing coming into the championship."
Ireland squad for the RBS 6 Nations championship:
Backs: T Bowe (Ospreys), G D'Arcy (Leinster), G Duffy (Connacht), K Earls (Munster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster), S Horgan (Leinster), R O' Gara (Munster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, captain), E Reddan (Leinster), J Sexton (Leinster), P Stringer (Munster), A Trimble (Ulster), P Wallace (Ulster).
Forwards: R Best (Ulster), T Court (Ulster), S Cronin (Connacht), L Cullen (Leinster), S Ferris (Ulster), J Flannery (Munster), J Hayes (Munster), C Healy (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster), S Jennings (Leinster), D Leamy (Munster), M McCarthy (Connacht), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), S O'Brien (Leinster), M O'Driscoll (Munster), M Ross (Leinster), R Ruddock (Leinster), D Wallace (Munster).