'The ups and downs of last season are standing to me now'
Leadership responsibility sees Athlone native develop into key cog in Connacht game-plan
Published 30/10/2015 | 02:30
Connacht banished a few demons last weekend as they won at Ospreys for the first time since October 2003.
That win came at St Helen's - until then they had never tasted success in the Liberty Stadium - and Pat Lam's men are now second in the Pro12 standings.
Craig Ronaldson clinched victory with a late penalty, after he took over the kicking duties from Jack Carty. Earlier in the game, Carty had missed three of his five opportunities off the tee, but the young Athlone man didn't let it affect his overall performance.
The 23-year-old out-half, who has made 39 appearances for Connacht and scored two tries, is an entirely different animal in 2015-'16, and doesn't rely on his confidence anymore.
Last weekend was a minor blip, he was on the way back from a minor injury, and his goal-kicking average has been dragged back to 68 per cent, with 17 successes from 25 attempts in the Pro12 this season.
Carty has kicked eight conversions and nine penalties in his four appearances to date, and overall he feels reborn. A lot of that he puts down to maturity, but the introduction of a sports psychologist, Niamh Fitzpatrick, could be the most positive impact on Carty's short rugby career so far.
Fitzpatrick has played a massive role with Irish Olympic teams in the past, and if she can channel the rawness of Carty's ability into the right areas, he could take his game to the next level.
"My overall maturity was one of the things that has come on since last season. Obviously we would have had a young backline last year," Carty says. "You can see everyone has matured a year and the average age of the group has gone up. I feel more mature and more comfortable barking at the lads around me.
"But I am going to see a sports psychologist in Dublin quite frequently too. I started seeing her in the middle of pre-season. It is something I would have wanted to get around to last year, when my performances weren't where they should have been. It's great to have that even when I am doing well, to keep me level and help me move on to the next game."
The Buccaneers clubman is one of the new breed that has swept through Connacht, and brought them so close to Champions Cup qualification last term.
A former team-mate of his at Marist College and Buccaneers, Irish international Robbie Henshaw, is the poster boy. But Carty also had to sink or swim when he was first introduced.
It is refreshing to see so many players nurtured in the academy and then given their chance on centre-stage in the Pro12, but with that comes its own pressures.
Being a No 10, Carty had nowhere to hide since he made his debut in the 27-17 defeat away to Glasgow three years ago.
When veteran ex-Scotland out-half Dan Parks retired at the end of 2013-'14, it left a cavernous hole in the Connacht backline. Carty was the man tasked with filling that - and it was a difficult first full season pulling the strings, but now he sees the fruits of his hard work.
"It was quite up and down last year. I was learning on the job and I feel like I have learned from the mistakes that I made back then. I had a lot of ups and downs last year but I always knew that would stand to me now. I took the learnings and I won't be making the silly errors.
"When my confidence was low it might have impacted on my performance on the field. But now I wouldn't say I am confidence player anymore. I have started managing my week more now as well, so I know what days I have to do certain things and that helps a lot.
"I have really planned out right from the start of the week, and I get to do a lot more work on the opposition too. So subconsciously I am positive in everything I am doing, at the moment."
Carty will need that mental edge as he prepares for some stiff competition again this term - Craig Ronaldson has taken his chance in the last two games, while Conor McKeon is an emerging talent.
AJ MacGinty's arrival, after an impressive Rugby World Cup with the USA Eagles, adds another dynamic, and Carty feels better equipped to deal with the pressure - he relishes it.
"Towards the end of last year myself and Craig were neck and neck. I set the goal that I wanted to be first-choice, so I wanted to do well in the pre-season games. Luckily, my performances were adequate and I've started four Pro12 games. I didn't really think about the competition, it was more about making sure that I got the small things done in training. I was getting the kicking practice in, and I knew that if I looked after that, the outcomes would look after themselves.
"Last year hearing about someone like AJ coming in, I would have been quite apprehensive maybe.
"Sometimes you can get comfortable with where you are because you started a few games, but the fact that he is coming in on the back of a good World Cup, that is going to keep me on my toes.
"He is going to get his chance as well, so I just have to keep going as much as I can now, and give myself the best opportunity.
"With this big block of games, there will be fellas getting injured because bodies won't be able to hold up. But I love the chance to get more game-time, and I want to put my best foot forward."