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McCarthy: We live for days like this

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Leinster's Mike McCarthy. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Leinster's Mike McCarthy. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Mike McCarthy, Leinster, is tackled by Peter O'Mahony, left, and Dave Kilcoyne, Munster. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Mike McCarthy, Leinster, is tackled by Peter O'Mahony, left, and Dave Kilcoyne, Munster. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

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Leinster's Mike McCarthy. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

"The sky is the limit only for those who aren't afraid to fly!"

So said Bob Bello in a Science Fiction almanac a few years ago and he had a point. And with Leinster's European adventure set to begin this weekend in Wales, the sky is truly the limit for all sides with ambition in their hearts.

Swansea and NASA might not resonate that highly on the radar of rugby enthusiasts, but for Leinster second row Mike McCarthy it will always be the starting point of his professional career.

So it was on a sunny day in June, as the rest of Ireland basked in unseasonal good weather, a squad of rugby players took the opportunity to avail of a rest day and visit arguably Houston's most famous tourist destination.

The trip was a highlight in the itinerary for the Ireland squad and for McCarthy in particular as it also inadvertently began his Leinster career.

He picks up the story. "We were sitting on a bus in Houston, on our way to NASA on a day off from the North American tour when a text came through to say that we had drawn Castres Olympique, Northampton and Ospreys. There was a fair bit of chat amongst all of the players from the various provinces about the draw and it kick-started things for me with Leinster.

Holiday

"Even when you're on holiday, you have it as a thought in the back of your mind. And now this week is upon us and time seems to have flown by since that day."

The (Connacht) Eagle had certainly landed.

It won't be quite the trek into the unknown frontier for Leinster tomorrow evening given that this is the second of four scheduled meetings between the two sides pencilled in this season, potential knockout encounters notwithstanding.

As McCarthy stressed, these are the weeks that professional rugby players live and breathe for.

The familiarity between the two sides is obvious given the frequency of PRO12 clashes over the years and when you throw in the fact that many were tourists on the British & Irish Lions tour to Australia together, it adds to what is set to be an exciting and tight affair.

"The Ospreys are a quality side with international class right across their side," he says.

"They have a number of Lions up front and Dan Biggar pulls the strings for them at out-half. They can play a fast or physical game depending on conditions and they'll be a tough proposition at home. But that's the nature of playing in Europe.

"To get out of this group we know that we'll need to up our performance levels from last weekend. We put in a lot of effort against Munster but things didn't go our way. So, the early part of this week was all about rectifying some of those areas and moving on quickly to the Ospreys because they will represent a big challenge for us.

"The Liberty Stadium itself is a wonderful arena to play in and Swansea is a sports mad city, especially with the football and rugby clubs doing so well in recent years. Knowing that we're going to be playing in a hostile venue like that can energise you as a player and we'll have to be on our game.

"There's a 'Test match' feel to weeks like this; playing against the best sides with the whole of Europe seemingly watching. It adds a bit of pressure, but if you ask any player this is exactly the kind of pressure you live for."

McCarthy calls Booterstown home now and is enjoying life in Dublin having spent six years in Galway and playing with Connacht.

"There's always a bit of a bedding-in period when you move clubs, but the lads have been really welcoming. I would have known a good few of the players from Ireland camps over the years, while Seán Cronin would be a good friend from our Connacht days."

And on early impressions of his new team, what are his thoughts?

"My early impressions of Leinster have been positive ones. We have been in a position to welcome back a few players in recent weeks which is important as we approach these important few weeks.

"Obviously the province has a proud record in Europe in recent years, but even though a lot of the players have achieved a lot of success, there's a clear hunger to win matches and lift more silverware.

Passion

"From a coaching point of view, the guys have been brilliant. Matt (O'Connor) has come in and is making a positive impression with the group and it's clear that he has a great knowledge of and passion for the game.

"From a forward's perspective, I'm enjoying working with and learning off two ex-All Blacks in Jono Gibbes and Greg Feek. They all have a lot of knowledge and experience in the game and they set high standards.

"We're looking to build up a head of steam and gain momentum because in such a tough group there won't be opportunities to slip up. We're determined to hit the ground running."

For McCarthy and his Leinster teammates this weekend, they're aiming to reach for the stars.


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