McCarthy keen to make up for lost time in Blue
The Big Interview: Mike McCarthy
Published 09/09/2016 | 02:30
On August 26 in a pre-season friendly against Bath Rugby, Mike McCarthy finally suited up for a Leinster game after six months out of action. A quick reminder of what he brought to the table, and what was subsequently missed from said table, can be seen in the Leinster end-of-season highlights video currently being shown on the RDS big screen before each home game.
Over the course of the season he only managed to play in 12 games, starting each time. Even still, the three-minute highlights reel has plenty of reminders of McCarthy's physicality and two hits in particular against his old club Connacht stand out. He was tearing it up in blue.
"My last Leinster game was actually against Bath in the Champions Cup in the RDS in January. I just never imagined that my next game would be against them over seven months later. But rugby is a physical game and you never know what's around the corner.
"At the time I was happy with my form and how I was going and I was delighted to be involved in the Six Nations."
He started the game against Wales in the Aviva Stadium. A 16-16 draw and followed that up with another start against France. But 57 minutes in to the game his season ground to a halt. A tackle from Jack McGrath and McCarthy on French full-back Maxime Medard left the second-row motionless on the ground.
"I suppose at the time I wasn't too sure of what was going on but I started to come around on the stretcher and by the time I was in the dressing room I was feeling good again, but obviously the return-to-play protocols kick in then and you just respect that and see what's next."
What he didn't see coming was being stood down for the rest of the season.
"The most frustrating part is that I felt fine. There were no symptoms and I passed all my tests during the return-to-play protocols but the medics felt that it was in my interest to take a break.
"You do have to respect that opinion. You see how well the Leinster medical team looked after Kevin McLaughlin or Luke Fitzgerald. They have the player's best interest at the core of every decision even if that decision is to have a massive impact on the player.
"So for me, that played a part. I accepted their view and got on with it. I'd hit the watt bike or the rower in the gym and try to keep ticking along. Towards the end of the season I was able to get more involved and I was on the pitch more. I loved that. I was also able to do other things, spend more time with family and take a few more holidays. So that was a huge plus."
He also started to dabble in the media dark arts with Sky Sports. A new experience?
"Most definitely. I actually get more nervous about doing Sky Sports gigs that I do before games but I did another game last weekend and that was my fifth game so I think I'm settling into it now. It was good to keep my mind focused on other things."
What did he miss most being out of the game?
"The edge. You can try to recreate competitive environments in the gym or race against other lads or their times but you can't replace pitch time. Going up against other players, preparing for big matches, enjoying their company, driving each other on. And that edge that you only get from going at it on the pitch with that common focus. I missed it.
It's great to back now properly and to have all that behind me."
Preparing for Glasgow Warriors after they have put six tries on the reigning champions is the common focus this week.
"They were very good. Their team has stars in every position but I think how Jonny Gray and Tim Swinson went about their business impressed me the most. It gave them a brilliant platform and then the backs did the rest.
"I think they would have been hurting. Their last two games last season would have been against Connacht and they lost both of those games in Galway. There was no way Gregor Townsend and the players would have settled for a third away loss there.
"I think with this being Gregor's last season with them and with the new artificial pitch in Scotstoun they will be playing with a different mentality, especially at home. And let's not forget how good they were last season and the season before that when they won. So we need to be at our best on Saturday."
The artificial pitch is becoming more and more prevalent in professional rugby. Previously the surface of choice for amateur clubs keen to alleviate the fixture pile up during the winter months, it is now popping up at an Aviva, a Pro12 and at a Top 14 ground near you. Cardiff Blues have one and now Glasgow.
"We played against Bath on a similar surface in Donnybrook. That's a huge plus whereas before you would play against Cardiff without a proper feel for the pitch. We also trained in Donnybrook this week and most of the younger lads would be familiar with it as the Leinster 'A' team and all schools matches are now played in Donnybrook. So it's not as big an issue as it might have been a few years ago but it's a different game. It's faster and your defence has to be right. If you slip off a tackle the knock-on effect is very difficult to slow down. Fast ball and outside backs even faster on that firm surface is a bad combination. So your defence needs to be rock-solid."
Their defensive cause is not helped by recent backroom changes and the arrival of Stuart Lancaster only five days out from the game but understandably McCarthy's first thoughts are with Kurt McQuilkin and his family.
"Our thoughts are still very much with Kurt and his dad and sister. It's still hard to take in that he is gone back home. He has our full support and it was great to see the Leinster supporters back the Shave or Dye campaign and also the charity auction for the Shane Monahan painting. I think nearly €8,000 was raised and that will help the McQuilkins I'm sure.
"We didn't have the best defensive record in the Pro12 last season for nothing! Kurt played a massive part in that so how to replace him was a massive task. But Stuart took his first defensive sessions on Tuesday in Donnybrook and new drills and a new perspective on how we go about our business in terms of our defence was brilliant.
"He has massive experience and that came across. Really clear messages about what he wanted us to deliver on Saturday and over the course of the season. It's been a great few days and we are all looking forward to how the season plays out under Leo, Stuart, Girvan and John."