McCarthy calls time on 21-year Midleton career
But club stalwart will continue to get stuck in
Back in the summer of 1996, Meath and Wexford were All-Ireland winners, Ireland captured their seventh Eurovision, TnaG was launched, and Aidan McCarthy first picked up a rugby ball with Midleton.
The veteran has seen it all in those years since, winning a Munster Junior Challenge Cup and Clubs Challenge Cup, as well as attaining promotion to the senior ranks, a status which Midleton have retained since. Three Cork Charity Cups have seen the East Cork side achieve silverware at the highest level, and a thriving youths and minis section mean the rugby club has gotten to the heart of the community.
A few weeks ago the tough, uncompromising forward finally hung up his boots, having played almost 250 AIL games for the Towns Park outfit since first featuring at just 17 years old - a total barely tallied in the arena that is the All-Ireland League - earning him plaudits from around the country, including former Munster players Ronan O'Gara and Jason Holland.
"It's great to get recognition, and after 19 or 20 years of playing it. I love the sport and it's a highlight to be recognised by guys like Ronan O'Gara and Jason Holland, two people that I've looked up to as I've started playing rugby and throughout my career," McCarthy says.
"I was very lucky injury-wise to have avoided anything major, a few bumps or bruises but nothing too serious. I'd have the opportunity to keep fit in work as well which makes a big difference, especially when you're talking about keeping yourself fit alongside those guys who are so well-conditioned. Definitely the biggest change I've found is the focus on physical conditioning. When we started it was a case of grunting to get over the line but now it's all based around speed as well. Even at the underage you'd see our guys and they're all well-honed in the gym and are well used to that side of things, and it's reflected on the pitch."
A long way from the climate that existed when McCarthy joined in his late-teens, not yet out of school but having played Gaelic games throughout, the switch to rugby was one that has shaped his life ever since.
"Initially there is definitely a change but there was a fantastic mentor at the time in Midleton called John Colbert - or 'JC' as we used call him - and he was really good to us. This year fell right with my family and other commitments to retire, and the age profile is starting to go against me! It's never going to be easy taking a step back from the sport you love, but you just pick a date and stick with it."
A step back, but only the slightest one. The dyed-in-the-wool clubman has been commended not only for his presence on the field, but off it too. Coaching, taking part in charity events, even walking in the St Patrick's Day parade, the gentle giant is never hard to find when there's something going on in the club.
"When Midleton were very successful as I came in during the late '90s we used have busloads going to games, and the town really got behind us. The club games have an awful lot to offer, not just for the rugby but the friendships you make as well. The club put in a tug of war team into a local charity day last week, and it's things like that which bring people together as a club.
"Obviously the on-the-field stuff is what's dominated my time this far, but you're always trying to build the club into the community. We're all busy with work but I'll try and get down whenever I can and do an extra bit, because there are volunteers there - and at every club - who do a huge amount. You wouldn't even notice the work they do a lot of the time, but you'd be absolutely lost without them.
"I love rugby and Midleton is my club so I'll always try to give as much back as possible, that's what I hope to do - encourage young people to try the sport. All sports across all facets of life are so important for people's well-being, and I'd encourage young people to try and take up whatever they can."