Ronnie Carey won both his caps in hardest way possible
The appearance of the legendary All Blacks in the Aviva Stadium will revive a host of memories for Ronnie Carey.
For 18 years ago the man who made his name playing for Dungannon and Ulster faced the most famous team in world rugby twice in the space of eight days.
It was an era long before the internet and mobile phones, and he only became aware that he had been chosen to tour with Ireland on his car radio returning home from work.
For one of the truly nice guys in sport it was nothing short of a dream come true.
“It was such a fantastic experience from beginning to end.
“In those days it was a proper tour taking in eight games in six weeks with a stopover in Singapore on the way home.
“People often ask if I would have liked to have played professional rugby but at 13 stone and 5-8 I don’t think I would have survived too long.
“It would have been great had I been built like the young Welsh wing George North,” he added.
In the first Test against the All Blacks in 1992 Ireland finished only three points adrift, 24-21, with a side that also included Ulster out half Peter Russell, second row Paddy Johns, No 8 Brian Robinson and Mark McCall, who came on as a replacement.
The Dungannon clubman scored on his debut against Bay of Plenty and was agonisingly close
to grabbing a try in the first Test when his attempted intercept just failed to come off.
“It all happened so quickly. I got my hand on the ball as Walter Little passed to Inga Tuigamala, but wasn’t able to hold on.
“Had I managed to get both hands on the ball there’s every chance I might have scored a try, but had I not managed to get my hand on the ball it’s likely they would have scored at the other end,” he said.
“It’s hard to believe that Ireland are still without a win against the All Blacks.
“Looking back, that game was a real missed opportunity. There’s no doubt they really underestimated us that day.
“Everything just seemed to fall into place for us, but we were unable to close out the match.”
Carey will watch Saturday’s game hoping that somehow Ireland can rediscover the form that swept them to Grand Slam glory last year. “My time has come and gone but I’ll enjoy watching it.
“I wouldn’t change a thing. I might only have two caps — but two caps against the All Blacks is
something most players can only dream about,” he said.
“There has been some controversy recently regarding the haka, but again it was a new experience for me and something I thoroughly enjoyed.
“I didn’t find it in the least intimidating. If anything it actually inspires you in that they are
throwing down a challenge and it’s up to you to meet it head on.
“But unfortunately on that occasion we came up short.”
Like so many others, Carey isn’t exactly enamoured with recent rule changes.
“New rules have been introduced but sometimes they have only added to the confusion that currently prevails, especially in relation to the scrums.
“It’s an aspect of the game I wouldn’t be all that happy about, but against that you have to marvel at the quality of some exceptional back play,” he added.
It’s hard to believe in the light of his many achievements that Carey didn’t play rugby seriously until he was 15.
But from that moment he never looked back, spending the next 18 years with the Stevenson Park club.
Ulster and Irish honours came his way, though his Ulster appearances were limited such was the competition for places from internationals Keith Crossan,
Trevor Ringland and Kenny Hooks. His case wasn’t helped when he arrived home from the 1992 New Zealand tour nursing a number of injuries.
If that wasn’t bad enough he then tore ankle ligaments at the start of 1993 which left him struggling to recapture the scintillating form that won him his two Irish caps.
Currently doing a degree in the Open University, it’s to his lasting credit that he still finds time to be a dedicated and committed trustee in a children’s charity, Child Victim of Crime.
His former club and country colleague Paddy Johns is quick to acknowledge Carey’s contribution to the sport.
“He was a relative latecomer to rugby but he quickly made up for lost time.
“His contribution to Dungannon cannot be overstated and regardless of who he played for he always gave nothing less than 100 per cent,” said Johns.