Sunday 26 May 2019

Carbery returns to the RDS head over heels in love with Munster

Best foot forward: Joey Carbery will face his former province Leinster this weekend having made a big impact with Munster. Photo: Sportsfile
Best foot forward: Joey Carbery will face his former province Leinster this weekend having made a big impact with Munster. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Fifty-one weeks ago, Joey Carbery was preparing to take on Munster while weighing up whether to join them.

Having come off the bench in Leinster's Champions Cup final win over Racing 92 in Blibao, he started his home province's Guinness PRO14 semi-final victory over their neighbours and played a role in their final victory over Scarlets.

Then he made his move.

It was announced in unusual circumstances as the youngster walked into a room full of journalists at the Ireland team hotel and said, "I've decided to go down to Munster".

He said his head had been fried but, having been encouraged by Joe Schmidt and persuaded by Johann van Graan to go south and pursue some game-time, he took the plunge.

A troublesome hamstring has played havoc with the latter half of Carbery's season, but he is fit again in time to face his old team-mates with the initial doubts long gone.

Carbery has gone native and even with more than a year remaining on his initial two-year deal he's committed himself until 2022. On the pitch, he has been a success and he is enjoying himself off it.

Mutual

"I think it was mutual," he says of his decision to extend. "Both parties were pretty keen on it happening. From a personal side, for Munster to want me for another three years is pretty cool, especially after one year for them to have the courage in me to keep me on. I'm settled here."

He is reminded of his initial reticence that day in Carton House when the big decision appeared to weigh heavily on his young shoulders.

"I suppose it was so fresh and raw when I announced it that I was pretty unsure of what was going to happen," he said. "But the way the lads have taken me in and looked after me, I've loved it from the word go down here.

"It's definitely been as good as I could have expected it. I love it down here and I don't have to get on a plane to go home (to Athy), I can always call home for an evening for dinner if mum's cooking. It makes it a bit easier.

"It was a very easy decision, I love it down here. I love the people, they've made me feel very welcome and I'm loving playing rugby down here as well.

"So, look, the potential is roof-less - we can get wherever we want to. It will take work and time but it's something we've definitely got."

Carbery's positivity about Munster stands in stark contrast with the mood around the province now that Felix Jones and Jerry Flannery have abruptly decided to leave.

The out-half is saddened by their departures, particularly that of Jones with whom he has worked closely.

"The hours he puts in behind the scenes and his knowledge… as a player, to have someone to sit down with you and go through everything with you - it makes my life a lot easier having (Felix) around," he said.

"He'll be sorely missed. It's like one of us leaving, so it's sad to see him go."

Still, he is positive about the way the team has played this season and where they can go.

Things might have been different this season if they had been able to keep Carbery on the pitch, but he injured his hamstring before the Castres game in December and suffered a more serious tear during Ireland training during the Six Nations. When he came back in Munster's Champions Cup quarter-final win over Edinburgh, the muscle went again which kept him on the sidelines as the team exited Europe at the hands of Saracens.

"It's tough, the highs and lows of each week, but I think it's never easy on the sideline and the best thing we can do from those poor performances or whatever is learn from them," he said of the difficult days.

"It's been a frustrating couple of months, hammies are quite niggly and so there were stages when I was going good, then going bad and it was hard to call," he said.

"I made a pact with the physios that I wouldn't play until I was 100pc, so I've been training the last couple of weeks and it feels pretty good."

His comeback has come in time for a reunion with his old friends who he last clashed with in December when Johnny Sexton pursued him in the way he once pursued Ronan O'Gara.

Carbery lets out a 'ha!' when he's asked if he's looking forward to seeing Sexton on the pitch again, but he's clever enough not to engage.

"I suppose if they are going after me then it brings space to someone else," he shrugged.

"I think that is every 10's job really if you are getting smashed, you're doing something right, so I suppose as a 10 it happens to Johnny, it happens to the best.

"If they get hit late or a bit late, that means that they are probably putting a bit more attention on you and hopefully then creating space outside you."

He's getting used to that attention and, after a few months watching on, he'll welcome it on Saturday.

Irish Independent

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