Sunday 16 December 2018

David Kelly: Joey Carbery’s Munster move may benefit Ireland but could have damaging long-term implications

Joey Carbery
Joey Carbery
Joey Carbery. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

It seems as if the weight of the world must be resting upon the slight shoulders of Joey Carbery. Or, at the very least, the weight of the World Cup.

The trauma of Ireland's exit in 2015 feeds into every strategic move the IRFU have been making ever since to ensure there is not a repeat scenario in 2019.

Now, and for several weeks during the run-in to a Leinster campaign fraught with anticipation of unprecedented success, Carbery has become a central figure in the IRFU's plan of action.

We reported this week that Munster coach Johann van Graan had met with Carbery, at whose instigation one is unsure.

It is likely that when he meets the media tomorrow, the national coach Joe Schmidt will provide an update on a saga that has been allowed to drag on at a stressful time for both the player and his history-chasing province.

Already, it seems quite clear and obvious to all that the gifted playmaker has rebuffed any attempts to pursue a short-term career at Ulster and Brian O'Driscoll, amongst many others, has been vocal in explaining the pitfalls of such a path.

So Munster seems the likelier option.

Schmidt can view his reserve ten strutting his stuff on a consistently high level for a full season, with the additional bonus of doing so alongside one of the world's best scrum-halves.

Carbery will benefit from consistent game-time, secure in the knowledge that his starting berth and position will be guaranteed.

And Munster accrue the qualities of an international class out-half, a quality that many experts have indicated is not currently available to them.

This much was evident when Van Graan's uncertain selection policy in the crunch time of their season saw him remove Ian Keatley and place JJ Hanrahan in his stead.

But will the move, if confirmed at all this week, really satisfy everyone?

Some Munster supporters may approve, particularly as there is everything to suggest that a player of Carbery's undoubted class would improve any team, particularly one desperate for creativity and line-breaking ability.

Others could be forgiven their scepticism. The latter cohort might reasonably question just why they should indulge the priorities of the national team above that of their own?

Munster already have four out-halves on their books. Do they really need a fifth?

Cheques

Van Graan's difficulty, regardless of whether or not he - or indeed Munster - are being gently prodded by those in Lansdowne Road who ultimately write the cheques, is that his quantity of tens may not necessarily equate to quality.

Keatley's demotion represented a significant policy shift as the South African seeks to discover the game-plan required to reach the next level of competitiveness, and even last season there were murmurings that the Dubliner might be shifted north himself.

Unfortunately, Tyler Bleyendaal's suitability for the role remains undermined by consistent injury, and patience with his fleeting appearance record must be wearing thin.

That leaves Hanrahan, the returning prodigal who originally left Munster in frustration at not getting an extended run in a key play-making role but returned to find he could still not upset the status quo, unless his selection for the Champions Cup semi-final decreed a permanent shift in philosophy for the coaches,

If this was indeed the case, the arrival of Carbery would seem to deposit him back in square one.

In this context, then, the latest policy move of IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora, Schmidt's boss, would appear to be make perfect sense.

There are still gnawing concerns when one reflects on the case of the fourth out-half on the books at Munster - Bill Johnson - another impressive talent but one who has been dogged by injury.

With many in Munster still disturbed by the ease with which their province has drafted two South Africans into their academy, it may sit uneasily that another outsider will jump the queue.

While the World Cup may engulf all rugby conversation for the next 14 months, it seems strange that Ireland have found themselves in this position in the first place, at loggerheads with their most successful province, all of whom want Carbery to stay.

He remains younger than Jonathan Sexton when he finally emerged as Leinster's main man, and Sexton has always reflected warmly on the time spent learning from his then superior, Felipe Contepomi.

Carbery has also expressed how he has enjoyed absorbing the master-class from one of the world's best tens but now his exposure could be drastically limited should he opt to move.

It's a personal choice but when he makes it, Carbery should realise that a short-term decision could have far-reaching consequences, primarily for himself.

As for Munster, they may welcome the transfer but, if they do, they must, at the very least, insist that it is not a one-year loan as that would prove highly unsatisfactory for the player, club and supporters, all of whom must demand unequivocal commitment.

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