Wednesday 23 October 2019

Rúaidhrí O'Connor: 'Joey Carbery's Munster commitment says a lot about faith he has in Johann van Graan vision'

Joey Carbery. Photo: Sportsfile
Joey Carbery. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Many assumed that Joey Carbery's move from Leinster to Munster might have been a temporary arrangement when the news first broke last May.

With the young out-half needing game-time and Munster needing a No 10, it seemed like a mutually beneficially arrangement but within 10 months of the move being announced it now looks unlikely that the 23-year-old out-half will wear the blue jersey again.

You can never say never in the increasingly unpredictable world of professional rugby, but Carbery's commitment until 2022 shows how much he has bought into the Munster project since taking his big decision.

A year ago, the idea hadn't even occurred to the player or the club.

Behind the scenes, the IRFU were beginning to privately float the idea of Carbery or Ross Byrne moving to Ulster - a prospect neither appeared to welcome.

David Nucifora and Joe Schmidt could see that these two promising young rivals needed to do more than vie for the No 22 shirt at their home province where Johnny Sexton rules the roost.

Leinster's hierarchy saw Byrne as a more natural fit for the out-half role in their system, with Carbery operating at full-back or coming off the bench. With Ian Madigan in Bristol and Paddy Jackson no longer being considered for selection, there was a pressing need to get one or both of them into starting roles.

In the end, it was Carbery who bit the bullet and when he appeared before the media to announce his move on the eve of Ireland's departure for Australia last May, he seemed a little less than enthusiastic about the prospect.

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He was willing to give it a go, but having just completed a PRO14 and Champions Cup double with his home club, he repeatedly used the word "tough" to describe his dilemma after signing a two-year deal.

At that stage, it looked realistic that he might return one day but within weeks of his arrival at his new club he was already talking enthusiastically about his future in red.

He was welcomed with open arms by the Red Army who cheered him on to the pitch for his debut at Thomond Park and gave him a standing ovation as he came off the field after his first start at Irish Independent Park.

Carbery has added a different dimension to Johann van Graan's team's attack, while he displayed real mental steel in overcoming his difficult outing in Castres to kick 22 successive efforts at goal.

Since Ronan O'Gara's retirement, out-half has been a problem position for Munster.

Ian Keatley had some great days but couldn't consistently deliver on the biggest stage while Tyler Bleyendaal's body hasn't allowed him to make the jersey his own.

JJ Hanrahan hasn't fulfilled his great potential either side of his stint at Northampton.

Carbery could have bided his time and made a decision next season, but instead he's signed a new deal nice and early to make a statement of his commitment to the cause.

For the Munster fans who have taken to him right away, it is a vote of confidence in a team and coaching set-up that have very real ambitions of ending an 11-year wait for a European title this season.

Ireland have benefited from the move, with Carbery coming off the bench to lead the team to the win over Scotland before suffering the hamstring injury that kept him out for the month of March.

The Auckland-born, Athy-raised, out-half will be a key addition to Schmidt's World Cup squad and will have a big role to play in Japan.

As the current generation of Munster players gear up for their latest bid at adding a third title to the province's rich European legacy, two of the men who played a pivotal role in delivering the first and second title to Thomond Park are considering their next move in the coaching world.

Most assume that Ronan O'Gara and Paul O'Connell will one day return to their home province as part of a dream ticket and their experiences in new environments will stand to them if they do.

O'Connell's departure from Stade Francais after just one season is a curious one, but the former Ireland captain won't be short of suitors even if his stated intention is not to join another club right away.

Given his status, it seems unlikely that he will be out of the game for too long.

The way things are going at Munster, where all of the leading lights have committed to the Van Graan project for another couple of seasons, it will be a while before that vacancy emerges.

Carbery's new deal is the latest vote of confidence.

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