Friday 15 November 2019

Comment: Joey Carbery must be his own man to thrive at Munster

New signing has the talent and drive to win locals over after making his big switch

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt with Munster-bound out-half Joey Carbery. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt with Munster-bound out-half Joey Carbery. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

If the Carbery clan had not decamped to Athy in the mid-2000s and Munster had just announced the signing of a precocious 22-year-old, Irish-qualified out-half from Auckland, this would feel like a very different transfer.

Instead, he arrives somewhat reluctantly from the Reds' biggest rivals; a young man who is so determined to fulfil his ambition of being the best player in the world that he has taken the most difficult decision of his young life.

Munster are getting the player Graham Henry reckoned would be Leinster's out-half for the next decade.

The eastern province are understandably furious at losing him and, in particular, the perceived IRFU role in his departure but they are not short of good options at No 10 and increasingly didn't seem to see Carbery as an out-half.

Carbery himself has always insisted that it is his best position, yet he has started just one game there for his home province this season.

Even with an improved contract offer on the table, the lack of game time and a helpful nudge from Joe Schmidt persuaded him to leave.

He is a gifted player, capable of changing games with his quick feet and excellent distribution and more than capable of managing a big game when needs be.

That is always the question hanging over the head of young, gifted out-halves but Carbery showed in the Grand Slam game at Twickenham that he has what it takes.

With Peter O'Mahony in the sin-bin, Johnny Sexton off getting a head injury assessment and Ireland under the pump having conceded a try, he managed the game beautifully and guided the team through a difficult period.


At Munster, he will have the helping hand of Conor Murray alongside him but the important thing for Carbery now is to go to Thomond Park with confidence and hit the ground running.

His arrival won't be welcomed by everyone; you can imagine how the four Irish-qualified out-halves on Munster's books feel about the international starlet being parachuted in over their heads. But, aside from Bill Johnston, they've all had chances to make the shirt their own and have not taken them.

The move raises questions about Tyler Bleyendaal's future after another season wrecked by a neck injury, while Ian Keatley and JJ Hanrahan will wonder where they stand.

The highly-rated Johnston - six months Carbery's junior but plagued by injuries so far in his career - is likely to see his windows of opportunity limited by the new man's arrival.

These are not Carbery's problems though. If he buys into the Munster regime from the very start, he will be a popular acquisition.

That doesn't mean changing his game though. The biggest mistake the 22-year-old could make would be to try and become Ronan O'Gara when he is so good at being himself.

Ulster were an option but, despite a decent cohort of backs to play with, Carbery was always more likely to favour Munster once their interest was made known. Semi-finalists in two competitions this season, they are a couple of players shy of getting back to the top table and out-half is a priority position.

With the World Cup looming large, Schmidt is desperate to avoid a scenario similar to the one that saw Ian Madigan pitched into a quarter-final against Argentina in 2015 after a couple of seasons at centre for Leinster. He believes it is up to Carbery to make this move work.

"To be honest, the proof is in the pudding," said Schmidt.

"I think it is a good opportunity for him to get in at No 10, but he is going to get competition from Tyler, Ian, JJ; Bill Johnson is a good young player, so there is going to be competition for him.

"That's not necessarily a bad thing either. It may turn out to be a good move if he can make the most of it. That's always going to be the question if anyone moves, 'would it have been a good move to stay? It could have been'.

"If he'd been able to progress and play more at No 10 it could have been [different]. With any young player - with any player, full stop - once you have made a decision, it's a good move, because that's what you've got to make it.

"It really is up to Joey now to make it a good move."

Carbery has spoken about moving out of Johnny Sexton's shadow as an important step.

Barring a surprise, he will be the No 22 for the Tests against Australia in the coming weeks and may even be handed a start if Schmidt takes a similar approach to selection to the one he took in South Africa two years ago.

Sexton remains the main man, but the younger out-half must gravitate from learning from the 32-year-old to rivalling him at some stage.

The first Leinster v Munster game of next season is already a box-office event and, after living his big decision in the public eye in recent weeks, Carbery will be aware of the scrutiny when he first pulls on a red jersey next season.

For Johann van Graan, the signing is a coup. He has spoken about developing Munster's attacking game and the addition of Carbery and the highly-rated full-back Mike Haley compensates for the loss of Simon Zebo.

All the while, Carbery will be getting the chance to improve and become a realistic option as Ireland's starting No 10.

"If you are not playing the position, it is very hard to progress in that position. I've no doubt that, with that base, he can springboard into a more senior position," Schmidt said.

"As a No 10, if you are not running the team during the week, it's hard to just jump in the saddle and take the reins. You've got to be leading."

This is his chance.

Irish Independent

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