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Tuesday 30 September 2014

Not just a pretty face: Brian Carney's pathway to Sky

Zippers, scars and oval balls line Brian Carney's pathway to Sky Sports

Paul Kimmage

Published 08/06/2014 | 17:00

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'I love the one-on-one chats, the Parkinson stuff. It's harder when you're talking to the camera and have to be word-perfect.' Photo: David Conachy
Brian Carney playing for Munster

The worst thing about living with a work-obsessed idiot for a father is the shadow cast by his moods when he's had a bad day. But the reverse is also true, and on Monday evening, when I come bounding into the kitchen sounding as chirpy as Des Cahill, my son is intrigued.

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"Who was it Dad?"

"Huh? Sorry Luke."

"Who were you interviewing?"

"Brian Carney."

"Who?"

"Brian Carney."

"Never heard of him."

"He used to play rugby for Ireland."

"Naaah."

"He was one of the great rugby league players."

"Don't watch rugby league."

"He's one of the most interesting people I've ever met."

"Yeah, sure."

And he looks at me like I've completely lost my mind.

"Dad, you've interviewed Usain Bolt," he snorts.

"Yeah."

"And Roy Keane."

"Yeah."

"And Roger Federer."

Yeah."

"How can Brian Carney be more interesting than Roger Federer?"

And it's a fair question. But not one I can answer in less than 6,000 words.

The ambivalence persists the following afternoon when I try to promote him to my editor.

"Is he really Irish?"

And a friend.

"What? He played for Munster!"

And suddenly I'm starting to wonder: Is there something wrong with me? What's going on here? What does Brian Carney have to do to be famous?

We meet on a showery morning at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester. He's spent the weekend making calls to Jamesie O'Connor and has five days to kill before he leaves for Nowlan Park and his debut as a GAA presenter with Sky. It's a big moment for Carney. Seven years ago, after a brilliant career in England and Australia, he returned home to Ireland hoping for a perfect ending.

This week he tries again.

I'm sorry?

What's that?

You've never heard of Brian Carney?

I think that's about to change

1 'CUE BRIAN'

Paul Kimmage: I've watched you a couple of times recently on television Brian, and the thing that surprised me most is your face. You would never say this guy played rugby league. You have a 'soft' face.

Brian Carney: (Laughs) Yeah, the make-up does wonders.

PK: I can see that now. I've just noticed some of your scars.

BC: (Points to his right temple) I'll never forget this one; it was my first ever Super League game and the boot of the late, great Steve Prescott.

PK: How many stitches?

BC: I don't know but it was a nasty one, my eye closed over.

PK: You've another on your nose and another over your eye?

BC: I broke my nose in Denis Betts' testimonial and that one was in a game with Shaun Edwards against France – I got a kick in the face.

PK: And another over your eyebrow?

BC: That's probably a kid injury, I grew up in the countryside. That's messing around Valleymount when I was a kid.

PK: You're damaged goods.

BC: (Laughs) Yeah.

PK: So the camera does lie?

BC: Yeah, but the make-up ladies will be delighted with you. I have to get my nose fixed, I can't breathe out of one side and that causes some problems.

PK: When was your first TV gig? Were you still playing?

BC: Yeah, I had a bad injury in 2004, just when things were taking off for me playing-wise, I had a really bad injury and broke my leg and dislocated my ankle and that set me back a long way. But while I was out, Sky asked me if I wanted to come down to one of the midweek shows. I was on crutches, and it was my first time in a studio but it was alright, I felt comfortable. Punditry as a guest is always okay; it's the presenting that's a little harder.

PK: When did you present for the first time?

BC: I presented for the first time in 2010. They asked me to do this interview show, Super League Supermen. We'd bring a player into the studio and do a half-hour interview with him live, but it was on the red button so that was okay.

PK: A half-hour can be a long time.

BC: Yeah, I chose the guests wisely but there were a couple of times when my questions were longer than the answers; I'd rattle through 40 questions and start dying but I learned so much. We came on air once and I heard 'Cue Brian' in my ear and I was looking at the camera waiting for the red light to come on. I heard 'Cue Brian' again and thought, 'Yeah, but I'll just wait for the camera to start rolling.' And then he screamed, 'CUE BRIAN! START TALKING.' And it put me off for the whole interview but it's like playing, you make mistakes and it's there for people to see but you've just got to learn to live with that.

PK: You've a good personality for it.

BC: Well, I'm getting to grips with how to do it better; seeing it for what it is and not being paralysed by self-consciousness. I love the one-on-one chats, the Parkinson stuff. It's harder when you're talking to the camera and have to be word-perfect.

PK: You mention Parkinson. Who would be the presenter you aspire to be?

BC: I've gone through the whole list. I've looked at a lot of Bob Costis, and he's phenomenally polished, but do I want to be that polished? I do like Eamon Dunphy. I worked on a building site in Dublin during the summers. We used to leave Valleymount, myself and Paul Stones, at 5.25 and the shipping forecast would be on the radio, that's how early it was. We'd start work at seven and finish at six and if I remember correctly Eamon Dunphy was on Today FM?

PK: Yeah, he presented an evening show.

BC: Was it The Last Word?

PK: Yes it was.

BC: That used to be our coming home show every night, and I loved his style because there's very little – and I have to be careful how I say this because I mean it as a compliment – but there's very little polish about Eamon Dunphy. He's an intelligent man, an articulate man, but there's no attempt to be polished. It's raw, really raw, and he was really brave. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for him to go on there and be flowery but he called people out, on radio and on TV, and I admired that. I don't know if I can do that. I've done it a few times in rugby league but people don't like it and you cop abuse. If you want to make life easy, tell everyone their team is great and the referee has ridden them. That's the way to ingratiate yourself with every team.

PK: This will be the first time you've worked outside of rugby league?

BC: Yes.

PK: How did it come about? When did you hear that Sky and the GAA had done a deal?

BC: (Smiles) On April Fool's Day, April the first. I was in France – my girlfriend at the time was French – and I was checking the news on the internet, which used to drive her crazy (laughs). I tried to explain that it's my job to be across what's happening in the world of sport but she would always see it as a pastime. Anyway, I saw this and thought, 'No way!' I had no idea it was even on the cards. Then, about two weeks later, Neville Smith, my direct boss in the rugby league department, said: 'Do we have anybody we could consider putting forward for this?' I asked him, 'Do you think I could do it?' He said: 'Yeah, of course I think you can do it'. So he put my name forward and I had a good, long chat with Steve Smith, the head of programming

PK: Was that a phone call or a meeting?

BC: Two in one day; a phone call first, and then a meeting later that day in London. I said, 'Yeah, I'd love to do this,' and got really excited. And I tend to talk a lot when I'm excited, but then I got really apprehensive: 'Can I do this?'

PK: Why were you so excited about it?

BC: I have an almost American pride in being Irish and love being the 'Irish guy' over here. And Gaelic games are so unique; I watched the hurling match yesterday (Limerick-Tipperary) and thought. 'There's nothing like this' – hurling in particular. I played a bit as a young kid and was no good at it, but I look at them now and think: 'If Ireland was ever being invaded, those are the guys you'd want in front'. It's a crazy, exciting sport.

PK: So, excited because it's Ireland?

BC: Yeah, I'm going home to work in a sport that I grew up watching on TV. I grew up watching The Sunday Game. I love what they do . . . the music (theme song) . . . the voices. I was listening to Ger Canning doing the hurling yesterday and it brought back a lot of good memories when the big hurling and football matches were a large part of your summer. I've been away from Ireland for a long time – I was back for two years with Munster – but I left Ireland in '98.

PK: And the apprehension was what? The worry you won't do well?

BC: Yeah, but I have that even when I'm working in rugby league.

PK: One of the criticisms of Sky, and the way they cover sport, is the hype. It's Super Sunday and Super Monday. Everything is hyped.

BC: Do you want reality? Is that what you want? Do people want reality? Here's the reality: There's probably only five teams capable of winning the World Cup. So what the hell are they doing allowing those other teams in? It's a waste of time. What if Man United are playing Cardiff? What are you going to say? Do you want somebody who says: 'There's no real point in watching this game because Man United will win it, nine times out of ten'. Or do you want somebody who comes on before the game and says: 'If there's to be an upset here, what has to happen? What do Cardiff have to do?' It's entertainment. That's it.

PK: And that's okay?

BC: It's okay if you do it without telling a lie. And I don't think people believe that a bottom-of-the-table team playing a top-of-the-table team is an event they cannot afford to miss.

PK: Your first game, Kilkenny-Offaly, is not quite Man United-Cardiff but it's not that far away.

BC: Yeah, and the thing I want to know, the question I'll be asking Jamesie (O'Connor) is: 'If you're managing Offaly, what do you put in the road of Kilkenny? What do you throw at them?' I want to see what Offaly will throw at them. Who will I put my money on? Kilkenny. But again, what do you, as a viewer, want me to do? Do you want me to say, 'Don't tune in?'

PK: What are you hoping for when you wake up on Sunday morning and the reviews of your first game are sitting on the table?

BC: What would be ideal? If I opened every paper and it said: 'Wow! Jesus that was really good.' But it's unlikely that's going to happen. I would hope people enjoyed it; I would hope people were entertained. Let's try and put everything into perspective here – I'm not standing for election.

* * * * *

2 THE GREATEST JOY

PK: Now if you were just a presenter, Brian, this interview would probably be over now but you're not, and that's what interests me most about you. You've had a brilliant career but also, in some ways, a curious career. It's been unusual, different?

BC: Yes it has.

PK: Let's start with your dad, he was also Brian?

BC: Yeah.

PK: He was a 'Carney' but born in Hungary?

BC: (Laughs) No, my dad was born in America but his grandparents on both sides were Irish. My mum was from Drimoleague – she passed away in '91 – and they met in New York.

PK: So you're dad was born in New York?

BC: Yeah, he was a lawyer, and thought of himself as Irish, and used to hang out where all of the Irish nurses went.

PK: And your mother was a nurse?

BC: Yeah, there were four girls in her family, all four were nurses, and she was working in New York.

PK: And that's where they met?

BC: Yeah, they lived there for a year or two and then came back. My mum wanted all of us born in Cork, and there were four (out of five) of us born there and then we moved to Valleymount. Dad set up a little printing company in Blessington, actually it was right across the road from Jack Boothman's house, but that went under after a while and dad had to go abroad for work. So for most of our childhood he was flying back and forth.

PK: Valleymount was an unusual place for him to settle.

BC: Yeah, I think he had this image of what idyllic Ireland should be and he went driving around the country until he found Valleymount. It's the most beautiful place, stunning. We had about eight or nine acres, with stables and horses, right on the lake.

PK: But he was away a lot?

BC: Yeah, sometimes mum would bring us up to Dublin Airport to meet him, or sometimes he would get a taxi back and give us a book – an 'Asterix' or a 'Tin Tin.'

PK: Who were your boyhood heroes?

BC: We watched a lot of football, a lot of soccer. I can remember Ray Houghton scoring against England in '88 and trying to do Ronnie Whelan's scissors kick. But who were my heroes? I won't say Kevin O'Brien was a hero but there was a time when he was close to being the best footballer in the country and there was a bit of pride in that. And when Baltinglass won the All-Ireland club championship, we could all stick out our chests a bit. But the people I copied when I went out onto the field were the soccer players.

PK: Did you ever imagine you would spend your life as a professional sportsman?

BC: No, it was never even on my radar.

PK: You went to Clongowes?

BC: Yeah. I was sent there under false pretences; I didn't know you had to board. The way it was sold to me was, 'If you don't like it, you don't have to stay here'. But there was no temporary boarding (laughs).

PK: Did you find it difficult to leave home?

BC: No.

PK: Not at all?

BC: No, there were difficult times throughout the six years but that wasn't, no.

PK: One of those difficult times, I imagine, was when your mother died?

BC: Yeah. I'd finished my Junior Cert, or Inter Cert as it was at the time, and had come home for the summer. I remember it was during Wimbledon: my dad said, 'I want to speak to you in my room'. It was usually when you were in trouble that you'd have to go into his room but he said: 'Your mum is not well. And she's not going to get better'. I don't think I said anything. It was just, 'Right, okay.' But I went for a walk straight away and remember crying.

PK: Cancer?

BC: Yeah.

PK: Was she in hospital?

BC: She had been, and we didn't know this obviously, but she had come home to die. You'd go into her room every morning: 'How are you feeling Mum?' 'Much better today.' And you'd think, 'Beautiful, we're on the way back up here'. Then my aunt came into our bedroom one night. Liam was in the bunk below me, I was pretending to be asleep. She said, 'Brian, you mum has passed away.' I left the room and walked up the corridor and she was tiny in the bed. But the enormity of it all didn't hit me. I'm still dealing with it now. It's the only thing in my life that I've ever struggled with.

PK: How did your dad cope?

BC: I don't know. He was unbelievable. But we had great support from mum's family and the people in the village were great. All of dad's money went into our education. We had no TV for two years in the house. He was buying us books and couldn't fathom that his kids lived in this beautiful place and wanted to watch TV.

PK: That emphasis your father placed on education is interesting because it came up in a piece I read about your attitude to rugby at Clongowes. One of your former classmates, Richie Governey, was asked why you had played Junior Cup but not Senior Cup and he said you were concentrating on your studies.

BC: (Smiles) Yeah, that was the official line. I did play Junior Cup and enjoyed it but I went onto the panel of the Senior Cup in fifth year and didn't really enjoy it. My friends weren't rugby players in Clongowes; two were brilliant golfers and the others were just messers and I wanted to hang around with them.

PK: The messers?

BC: Yeah.

PK: You were drawn to the messers?

BC: Well I was drawn to my friends, whether they were geniuses or messers, they were my friends.

PK: How did you feel about rugby? Because everyone thinks of Clongowes as a rugby school?

BC: Yeah, and when I told the headmaster I didn't want to play, it didn't go down well. They were shocked, because nobody does it; nobody says, 'I'm not going to play,' so I had to toss up something pretty good. I couldn't say, 'I want to hang around with Niall O'Mahony and Robert Burns and Eoin Colgan and Eugene Hennessey.' I had to say, 'I'm just going to concentrate on my studies'. And they were shocked.

PK: Because this is heresy?

BC: Yeah, they wrote a letter to my dad saying how disappointed they were and what a bad example it was setting. And I think some of the teachers fell out with me, but I remember I won the 100m sprint at the end of year and I thought (he raises a finger), 'Fuck you'.

PK: But surely they weren't mutually exclusive? Playing rugby and being with your friends?

BC: No, but I'd rather go out and kick a football around with them than go training.

PK: Rugby wasn't that special to you?

BC: Nothing really grabbed me . . . even now, nothing grabs me as much as friends and family. Nothing.

PK: That's interesting.

BC: Is it? Surely that should be your default. Honestly, I get more of a buzz out of ringing my mates and hanging around with them than I do out of anything else in life.

PK: And you've always been that way?

BC: Always, I mean, strip it all back: What do you want? Your sport or your friends and family?

PK: So you're not an obsessive? Because a lot of top sportsmen are.

BC: If I decide to do something, I want to do it well. Like now, I want to be a good presenter on TV but is it the sole thing that drives me? No way. I'm not that driven.

PK: But you have a rebellious spirit?

BC: Yeah, there's been a bit of that. I had an argument with a priest once about 'Was there a God?' And that's not the wisest thing to do in a Jesuit college.

PK: This was in Clongowes?

BC: Yeah, it was Jim Culliton, and I got on well with Jim Culliton. He used to smoke and had a goatee beard and I thought he was Father Cool. But it (the discussion) boiled down to 'prove it'. And his (answer) 'I don't have to prove it, just accept it,' wasn't good enough for me. I wanted harder proof.

PK: Was your view on God . . .

BC: Related to my mother's passing?

PK: Yeah.

BC: Not at all, not in the slightest. Never once did I go, 'My God, why have you forsaken me?' Never once, subsequently, did I go, 'Why me?'

PK: So Clongowes was interesting?

BC: Yeah, I loved it. I used to get in all sorts of trouble but I loved it.

PK: Are you on the Wall of Fame there?

BC: (Laughs) No, no, I wouldn't be on that.

PK: And you wouldn't want to be?

BC: Well, I tell you what, I couldn't speak highly enough of the place. I loved it. What a brilliant place. What a great education I was given. What great teachers I had. That's what I think when I reflect on it. What a great place.

PK: And these friends of yours, the messers, did they go on to be captains of industry?

BC: Well, when I say messers, I don't want to do them down. They're all successful businessmen. Eugene is Head Groundsman on the European PGA Tour; Robert is one of the directors of the 151 Investment Company; Niall is a self-employed director of his own company; John is a vet; Eoin is a pharmacist . . . they've all done well.

PK: So how does a guy who's not that pushed about rugby at school end up as a professional in rugby league?

BC: I finished Clongowes in the summer of '94 and started in UCD (business and legal studies) in September of '94. I played football for Valleymount that summer, as I did for most summers, and then somebody at university said: 'Will you come down and play at Lansdowne?' So I went down and played a couple of games at Lansdowne. Brian Corrigan was one of the coaches there. He said, 'I know you're not overly enamored with rugby union but what about rugby league? I've got a team called the Dublin Blues. Would you like to give it a try?' So I said, 'Yeah, I'll give it a shot'. And that was it, pure luck.

PK: That was the 'Sliding Door?' Meeting Brian Corrigan?

BC: Yeah.

PK: What were your perceptions of rugby league?

BC: I had no perceptions.

PK: Here's one: It's an absolutely brutal game.

BC: Yeah, I learned that.

PK: How long did it take?

BC: The first game . . . we were playing against France in Dublin and I got cut on my face and Barrie McDermott was in the dressing room afterwards and he went. 'I see you've got a bit of a zipper.'

PK: A zipper?

BC: Stitches. And I went, 'Oh, yeah, yeah'. And then he said, 'Hey, could you just check? I think I've done something to my eye.' And I looked at him and it was like you had cracked his eyeball with a hammer but it was still intact. I said, 'Oh! Oh my God! You'd better see the doc!' And he started laughing.

PK: He was winding you up?

BC: Yeah, he caught me a beauty. He had a false eye and had shoved this (shattered eyeball) in to wind me up. I remember looking around the dressing room and thinking: 'I'm amongst (some hard) men here'. They were like WWF wrestlers. I started training and got strong, quickly. I'd never done weights before but I trained and trained and trained and by the end of that (first) season I could bench 120 kilos.

PK: Steroids?

BC: No.

PK: Why not?

BC: They were never offered to me.

PK: Because that's another perception: rugby league is full of drugs?

BC: A lot of people have said that to me. I played with Aussies; I lived in their pockets and went around to their houses for dinner and nobody ever said, 'Here Brian, get this into you, you need to do this'. It was never offered to me, I was never tempted to do it and never needed to. I could bench-press 125 kilos and that was strong enough.

PK: You were the first Irishman to play for Great Britain since Tom McKinney in 1957?

BC: Yeah, and that was pretty big for me because I understood what it meant. I had a really good year in 2003 and got called into the squad to play the Aussies. I think it was about 30 years since Great Britain and Ireland had beaten the Aussies in a Test series and . . .

PK: It was a Great Britain and Ireland team?

BC: Yeah, because I wouldn't have played for 'Great Britain'. And I had issues with the flag and the anthem. I was asked to pose with the Union Jack because I'd been made vice-captain, but I looked at them incredulously: 'You're not serious!' And they couldn't understand what the problem was. I said, 'That's not my flag.'

PK: So you have this really successful career in rugby league – World Team of the Year in 2003, best winger in Australia in 2006 – and yet, back in Ireland where you've been born and reared, hardly anyone knows. Does that matter?

BC: No.

PK: It never mattered to you?

BC: No, it never bothered me at all. Somebody said to me once: 'Hey! I was in a pub in Ireland and there was a jersey of yours hanging up.' I said, 'Bullshit.' He said, 'It was a placed called Valleymount.' I said, 'Yeah, that's where I'm from.' And that gave me the greatest joy, to know that they were proud of me in Valleymount.

* * * * *

3 LONESOME DOVE

PK: Your transition from rugby league to rugby union was curious and quite sudden. In January of '07, you travelled to Australia for a new season of league with the Gold Coast Titans, and three months later you were playing union with Munster.

BC: Something had been festering inside me for a while . . . I landed in the Gold Coast and was waiting for my bags at Coolangatta airport and just started thinking, 'I don't want to be here'. It was really weird. The next day I went to see Michael Searle, the (Titans') chief executive. He says: 'It's good that you've come in, because I've got this to give you,' and he presents me with this beautiful, six-foot surfboard with the Gold Coast emblem and my number on it. I said, 'Thanks, but I can't do this anymore'.

PK: And had this . . . homesickness I'd guess you'd call it, manifested itself before?

BC: At times, yeah, around mum's anniversary. I remember in July 2006 being unhappy at Newcastle. I loved the people there, and the club, but I didn't have a girlfriend at the time and was coming home every night to four walls. I thought, 'I really need to get back to England.'

PK: But you were going home to four walls in England?

BC: I don't have complete answers, and I haven't spent a lot of time delving into it but you're absolutely right; I had four walls in Chorley and four walls on the Gold Coast so what was it? Was it the way I was feeling coupled with the intensity of the job? Because it got intense over there and there's a lot of scrutiny; you're on television every night and it's front and back page about everything you do.

PK: What about relationships?

BC: Yeah, a relationship might have changed things.

PK: You've gone out with a lot of women.

BC: Yeah.

PK: How many long-term relationships have you had?

BC: Not many.

PK: One? Two?

BC: Up to that point?

PK: Yeah.

BC: Probably two up to that point . . . well, what's long term?

PK: I dunno . . . three years?

BC: Oh fuck! No.

PK: What's long-term for you?

BC: Six months or something like that.

PK: (Laughs) Really? Six months?

BC: Well, if I was going out with somebody for six months that's a fair commitment I would have thought.

PK: Six months is a fair commitment?

BC: Well, you have me worried now with your laugh. I mean, three years to three years to three years until you find the right person? Would you not know after six months?

PK: I would think so, yeah, but a lot of people don't.

BC: Well, I'd hate to be in a relationship for three years and it not to be the right person. And I've just come out of a relationship now, but only because she won't move over here and has gone to Tahiti to work.

PK: This is the French girl?

BC: Yeah, and we've been together since 2007.

PK: That's six years!

BC: Yeah, but we were talking about up to 2006. I mean, I went out with a girl in university for about three years but I had no long-term relationship in England when I was playing. I avoided that.

PK: Deliberately?

BC: Well, I was having fun, which is not to say I wouldn't have settled down if the right person had come along but . . . I dunno, I think you probably have to park a few things if you're going to give something like that a chance and I wasn't willing to do that.

If I had been in a stable relationship in Australia and my missus was happy there, or if we'd had a kid in school, I could probably have stayed on. But nobody was losing out; the only loser here was Brian Carney and I could live with that. So I flew home and went back to four walls in Chorley.

PK: How did the move to Munster come about?

BC: I wasn't sure if I was going to play again. I was home about six weeks and had an offer from London Broncos but I wasn't sure. If I was going to play again, I wanted something totally different, and that was the attraction of rugby union. But that was also the attraction of going to London because it's a bit of a rugby league outpost down there, so it boiled down to a choice between the two.

PK: The Broncos or Munster?

BC: Yeah. I remember being on Sky and they asked if I was going to play again. 'I don't know,' I said. And I didn't know but I got off the show and Terry O'Connor, who was doing my management at the time, rang me and said, 'Ireland rugby union have booked two flights for us to go to Ireland tomorrow morning. If you want to go to rugby union, you have to be on that flight because we have to sign by lunchtime to make the deadline for the Heineken Cup. What do you want to do?' So I said 'Okay, we'll go.' But that's as much thought as I gave it.

PK: Really?

BC: Yeah.

PK: Who made the initial approach?

BC: Graham Steadman (the former England rugby league player was the Ireland defence coach).

PK: On whose behalf?

BC: Eddie O'Sullivan's.

PK: So Eddie instigated it?

BC: Yeah, Eddie was across most sports and kept an eye on rugby league. He told me afterwards they had sent somebody to watch me at Bradford one night when I was playing for Wigan.

PK: And during that time when you were at the height of your career, was there never a moment when you thought, 'I might fancy a crack at union'?

BC: No.

PK: Never?

BC: No. They did talk to me a couple of times. Matt Williams spoke to me and I actually met Alan Gaffney here, in this hotel, to see if I would sign. And I was curious to see what they would offer but it was never really serious.

PK: So it came down to money?

BC: No, I was happy in league.

PK: But this was a chance to play union, the biggest (code) in Ireland?

BC: Yeah, but I was in a sport that's respected by all other sportspeople and that was a badge of honour for me. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't put my neck in a scrum for all the tea in china, but rugby league is ferocious.

PK: What happened that morning when you flew to Dublin?

BC: I had to do a fitness test with Mikey McGurn on Lansdowne's pitch – the lads were doing their final training run before they played their last Six Nations game – and then I had to go and meet a couple of the top brass from the IRFU. They said, 'right, when can you move over?' That might have been a Thursday, so I flew over the following Monday to Cork and met Declan Kidney in a hotel. That was quite funny actually.

PK: Meeting Kidney?

BC: Yeah, I was in the room and I had a phone call: (Adopts a brilliant Kidney accent)

Yeah, hello?

"Hello."

"Yeah, it's Declan Kidney here. I'm downstairs."

"Right, I'm just having a bit of food . . . Do you want me to come down to meet you?"

"No, I'll come upstairs to your room."

"Right, okay."

He came upstairs to my room. It was a Sunday or a Monday night.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" he says.

"Well, I'm told there's a chance I'll play on Friday. Do you have a playbook or anything like that?"

"Jeez, I didn't think you'd hit me with all that . . . What are you going to do when you finish playing?"

(Laughs) Deccie was big into the holistic approach to coaching, which I giggled at a bit. But that was it; I played against Ulster that Friday.

PK: That game was in Belfast?

BC: Yeah, with Christian Cullen, and that was a bit of a buzz because in rugby league circles, people like Christian Cullen and Brian O'Driscoll and Dan Carter and Carlos Spencer commanded a lot of respect. But there weren't many of them.

PK: One of the more curious aspects of your time with Munster and Ireland was your relationship with the media. Here's a couple of quotes . . .

BC: You'll be doing well to find a quote because I don't remember doing an interview.

PK: Yes, that's the point. When I say 'quotes' I mean stuff that journalists wrote about you at the time. This is from The Irish Times in May, 2007: 'The colour and dash of his on-pitch persona could not have been further removed from the reserved and studiously measured responses when corralled by the media. The only trait shared between pitch and dais was elusiveness.' This is from the Sunday Telegraph in Australia, in May 2009: 'Carney, who has always shunned media attention.' What was that all about?

BC: I think, as ever in life, it's a few things. I was always willing to do interviews with media but I grew tired of trotting out the same stuff. And I know I was in control of that, but I got bored with it. And I was pissed off plenty of times by headlines and used to hate the abdication of the journalists (when they said), 'I didn't write the headline'. That's just shit!

PK: And you'd had enough by the time you came here?

BC: They were asking about my ambitions and my impressions and my goals and I thought, 'What can I say here?' But they were only doing their job and . . . yeah, I was probably a prick.

PK: The first couple of months were very positive.

BC: Yeah, it was good, I went to Argentina and that was brilliant. I'd played in big stadiums with massive crowds but I'd never played in front of a louder crowd than in that first Test in Argentina. They were chanting at one stage and I thought, 'Oh my God, it's like a soccer game.' We lost that game but I managed to score a try at the start and it went well.

PK: How did your debut for Ireland compare with your debut for Great Britain and Ireland?

BC: Do you mean in terms of pride playing for Ireland versus pride playing for Great Britain and Ireland?

PK: I'm not setting any parameters. What were the two experiences like?

BC: I made my first appearance for Great Britain and Ireland against the best team in the world (Australia). I made my first appearance for Ireland against Argentina, and no disrespect to Argentina, because they beat us over the two games, but if we had been playing New Zealand it would have been different.

PK: Okay, let's set some parameters then, How did it compare in terms of pride?

BC: Standing for the national anthem was pretty good. I had watched Simon Geoghegan and Noel Mannion and Philip Matthews and Brendan Mullin and here I was, playing in the same jersey and that was pretty cool. But that's a post-event reflection and I don't derive hours of satisfaction from that. I don't sit back and crack a beer thinking about that.

PK: It was the first of your four caps?

BC: Yeah, two in Argentina, the Scotland warm-up game and the Italy warm-up game. The Italy game was funny, actually. Eddie O'Sullivan brought me on and the clock said zero, zero, zero, zero (the time was up). I thought, 'You're fucking joking! If they blow the whistle before I get across to the wing, I won't live this down'.

PK: How long were you on the pitch for?

BC: I'd say two to three minutes.

PK: You never got to play at the World Cup or Lansdowne Road?

BC: No, but I was still delighted to go to the World Cup. I would have liked game time but I understand why (it never happened) with the way the team performed. I remember myself and Alan Quinlan; every night we would go to Rala's (the kit man) room and watch Lonesome Dove. We laugh about it now but that was our World Cup, watching Lonesome Dove.

PK: The following year you won a Heineken Cup with Munster.

BC: Yeah, I played in six out of the nine games that year but didn't play in the quarter-final, semi-final or final and don't really feel I made any sort of contribution. And I would never list that Heineken Cup win as an achievement on my sporting CV but that's what happens. I wasn't good enough to be in the team.

PK: What did that do to your pride?

BC: It was tough, you're always conscious, especially as you're coming towards the end and your body is slowing down, that there's limited hours available to you as a professional. And in January of 2008, when Dougie (Howlett) had come and I wasn't playing, I could sort of see the end. I was doing everything that was asked of me and couldn't physically have given any more and that was it. Was I cut out to be a better rugby union player or a better rugby league player? (The answer was) rugby league.

PK: What about your retirement? Was there a plan for the next phase of your life?

BC: No plan. I've never planned anything. I never set out with a plan. I made a few rough sketches but there was never . . .

PK: You never worried?

BC: No, and I still don't have a plan.

PK: You've never written a book?

BC: No.

PK: Why not? You've had an amazing life?

BC: I bought two autobiographies a couple of years ago and was motivated by them and used them for training. I'd think: 'This isn't tough, just think about what you've just read'. And of course it was fucking Lance Armstrong! So for sure I could write a book and tell the bits that I want to tell but what would I call it: 'Brian Carney – The Partial Truth'.

PK: What's wrong with: Brian Carney: The Whole Truth.

BC: I don't want to expose my life in that way.

PK: Because it might reflect badly on you or . . .

BC: I don't buy autobiographies now. I'm cynical or sceptical about what's in them. Sometimes you can write a story and make it sound so much better than it actually is. And there are far more interesting and important people in the world than me.

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