Joey Carbery: 'I'm just happy to be playing in any jersey'
Whirlwind 12 months left playmaker on brink of superstardom before injury struck – and now he’s showcasing his versatility
You may know him as Joey Carbery the No 10 but now meet Joey Carbery the full-back. Son of New Zealand and of Athy, he is now making a home in the No 15 jersey - or is he?
"I'm just happy to be playing in any jersey," he says. "Whatever plan Leo (Cullen) and the coaches have for me, I am happy with but I loved the game last Friday against the Dragons.
"Playing in the team at the moment and over the last three weekends we're playing good rugby, playing with a nice flow. . . it was nice to be on the end of a few moves but also to set up a few as well so it's been very enjoyable."
Having started against Edinburgh at out-half, an injury to Rory O'Loughlin meant a shift to full-back for Carbery, and then came a start a week later away to the Dragons in Rodney Parade.
You can see it now, though. How the chat develops in Newport when the Leinster team is announced.
The pitch, the conditions, a wet and greasy ball and an inexperienced full- back minding the house for Leinster. Bombs away, said the Dragons coaching staff. No problem, said Carbery.
"All that is probably true and is a fair reflection of what was waiting for us - well, waiting for both teams really because it was a heavy pitch," he says.
"But I think we had the right mindset going over there. Regardless of the conditions, it was the same for both, so it was about us knowing our game-plan and the fact that everyone was nailing that plan and really executing well made my job that little bit easier."
The last few weeks have also seen a lot of Leinster players coming in and out of different positions. Carbery to 10 or to 15 is one thing, Bryan Byrne from hooker to openside quite another. But Carbery feels that having that versatility to your armoury is a huge thing, especially for the younger players.
"You have to be able to adapt," he stresses. "I suppose at ten you have a lot more control and you're on the ball more whereas at 15 you might be at the end of some things.
"But I think you can play yourself into the game more as a 15, you are almost a second ten if you want, so definitely in attack it's a benefit.
"In defence in the back-field there is a lot more running and covering involved so you need to know the positioning and trying to be a step ahead of the play to almost read what will happen.
"I've enjoyed it though and again whatever Leo and the coaches want from me, I'm more than happy to help."
Carbery (21) has now had three games to get back into the Leinster system: a cameo off the bench at Treviso followed by two starts against Edinburgh and Dragons.
But the memory of the injury against Northampton in December isn't far from his mind either. The picture on the front page of the Sunday papers said it all.
A dejected Carbery with an ice pack on his heavily strapped ankle sitting on the Leinster bench. Crutches in hand.
"You have to deal with it; I know that sounds simplistic but you have to actually get your head around it.
"Nobody wants to get injured but it is part and parcel of rugby so you have to mentally deal with it. Everything runs through your head.
"A bonus was getting relatively good news early on, so instead of looking at an injury that might have been months I knew within a few days that we were talking weeks so that helped hugely.
"So I was lucky in how I fell on my ankle. The surgery went well and if you offered me eight weeks in that split second where everything was running through my head I would have taken it!
"Then it's about getting back. And can I do anything extra now away from the pitch that will make my game better when I do come back? So little extras became a focus for me as part of the comeback and thankfully it all worked out well.
"I hit my targets and I'm just delighted to be back. And delighted to be away from those early morning rehab sessions!"
This weekend, you'd imagine that different tests will come his way from a Scarlets team pushing hard themselves for a top four finish.
"This four game block we wanted to win every game but I think, given where all four sides are in the table, this on paper is our hardest game," adds Carbery.
"You only have to look at their form lately, winning 12 games from their last 13 and then that win over Munster last week when they were 15 points down away from home in Thomond yet still won the game.
"They have good variety to their play in offence and I think they've got the third best defensive record in the Pro12, so they'll throw plenty of challenges our way but that's what you want. Hopefully our game will prevail over theirs."
A big week for Carbery building up to Scarlets but building now knowing that he has a senior contract at Leinster sorted, with the announcement during the week that he and six others had been awarded improved deals. It has been some year.
This time last year he was preparing for an AIL run-in with Clontarf, with his Leinster debut off the bench under his name. This year, he is a full Irish international with a senior contract nailed and preparing for a positive end of season run-in with Leinster on two fronts.
"I'm very grateful for everything that has happened, delighted to sign on and can't wait to see what lies ahead," he says.
"I can't believe that it has gone so well and I just want to represent all those people that have helped me as well as I can - whether that's my Dad and the coaches in Athy, people in Ardscoil na Tríonóide, or in Dan van Zyl, Wayne Mitchell in Leinster, Peter Smyth and Gareth Pickering in Blackrock and of course Andy Wood and Simon Broughton in Clontarf.
"I owe those people so much and I just can't wait to kick on and look to improve again.
"The announcement this week also shows how strong the Academy backroom team is and the player pathway in Leinster, that these players are spotted and looked after.
"It's a really positive week for the schools, clubs and the pathway involved for all seven of us."