McCarthy wants more after taste of big time
Published 08/01/2016 | 02:30
It's been a manic few weeks for 20-year-old Leinster scrum-half Nick McCarthy but, as he sits back to reflect, he would have it no other way.
"To be honest, when you are out there you just get into it and you are so focused on the next play and getting around the pitch so you don't have time to take it in or to reflect on what has just happened, that you have just made your debut or the players facing you.
"The other bonus that I have had is that in both games that I've played in I have come on with a pack in front of me with huge experience. That does make it easier."
Still and all, it has been quite a few weeks. Studying engineering in UCD and the exams that come with that at Christmas. Still in the Leinster Academy. Playing in the British & Irish Cup with Leinster 'A' and playing AIL with UCD. And then from left field a Leinster senior debut in the Aviva Stadium against the three-time and reigning European champions Toulon. But first a step back.
The former Irish U-20 captain is the first to admit that but for injuries elsewhere he could still be biding his time. But, as backs coach Girvan Dempsey alluded to in media earlier this week, injuries are a part of it for every player. It's then up to you.
An injury to scrum-half Luke McGrath picked up in the Guinness Pro12 game against Ulster called for back-up, while another injury to Jack Conan opened up a slot in the Champions Cup squad list.
Step forward McCarthy. The second year Academy scrum-half was now a European-registered player. Things were falling into place. And then the breakthrough.
"I've been involved in a few extended match-day squads and in your mind you are just hoping to get an opportunity in an actual squad of 23. Luke was already ruled out of the Toulon game and then Bossy (Isaac Boss) was feeling his hamstring so while he was over at the far side of the Aviva with the medics going through various exercises, I was running at nine with Eoin (Reddan). In my mind of course I knew there was a chance but you also don't want Bossy to miss out.
"During the World Cup period I missed out on that part of the season due to an ankle injury so I know how frustrating injuries can be."
When Boss didn't shake off the hamstring, McCarthy was called to one side by Leo Cullen.
"The 15 to start was announced earlier in the week and then Leo was waiting on a few players and fitness. After the session he let me know.
"We have a family WhatsApp group - just the four of us, mum, dad and my sister Lisa - and I was straight onto it. It's great as well that they were able to make it to the game and that they are able to share in that moment with you. My mum was pretty nervous but obviously delighted for me."
Most of us can only dream of that moment.
"I got the nod from Ronan (Ronan O'Donnell - operations manager) to take the top off and get ready. That was with maybe ten or nine minutes to go. But then a few things happened and it's pushed back. 'Next play, after the next play,' he kept saying. So it crossed my mind that I wouldn't even get on but then I did and you just try to get into it straight away."
Into Nonu. Into Mitchell, Giteau, Bastareaud, Armitage. First scrum. Standing beside Sebastien Tillous-Borde, the French scrum-half. Time to get into him.
"It doesn't cross your mind. We were on the back foot at the time and defending inside our 22 so there was no time to look around and take it in. It's next job.
"Of course a debut in the Aviva is special but a winning debut would have been even better but I think elements of that performance have stood to us since and we've been building."
An unused sub in Thomond Park, he was called into action in the RDS against Connacht. Finally that win under the belt. Has he noticed a step up?
"I haven't played a huge amount in the two games but you'd still notice it watching on at close quarters from the bench or even in the warm-up, the step up in intensity.
"I think the big thing that I have noticed is the detail. There is no room for error. So early in the week it's about learning from the weekend and then getting the playbook right for the next game.
"As a scrum-half knowing your role and being able to execute the game plan well - that is something that you really have to get right.
"You know you have ability but I suppose in some ways you are second-guessing yourself and you are maybe a little bit more anxious, so all the more reason to get your basics right early."
He is though learning about the basics from two scrum-halves with over 250 Leinster caps and 89 international caps between them.
"Eoin and Isaac have been brilliant. It's probably a cliché but you are working with two players who have seen it all and have won nearly everything there is to win in club rugby.
"For the likes of myself and other young nines like Luke McGrath and Charlie Rock, you look forward to coming in and training on a daily basis because every day is something new and they are very generous with their time.
"Whether that be passing sessions or kicking, tactical elements, they help you out with the game sheet at the start of the week. It really helps your confidence to have lads like that walking through stuff with you."
With the injury list clearing up though it may well be that this taste for the big time will have to do for now, but McCarthy, while realistic, also wants more.
"This is my third year out of St Michael's so while I understand that I have to be patient I also want to play games so the taste I have had for it recently has only increased that motivation.
"Hopefully Eoin and Isaac go well in the next few weeks and maybe get the nod for the Six Nations squad. That then maybe opens up the door again for me to put my hand up, so look, I can only focus on doing my best and performing as best I can when I do get opportunities."