Friday 18 October 2019

Carty ready to step up in biggest test yet

In-form Connacht No 10 receives massive vote of confidence from Schmidt

Jack Carty will be helped by having a player of Conor Murray’s experience alongside him. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Jack Carty will be helped by having a player of Conor Murray’s experience alongside him. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Cian Tracey in Hamamatsu

Jack Carty's parents were in Yokohama last weekend to see their son make his World Cup debut in style.

Ted and Susan left Japan on Tuesday and as soon as they touched down in Ireland, they received a phone call from Jack, who told them that he would be starting against Japan this Saturday.

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It must have been a bittersweet call because while they were obviously overjoyed for their son, not being able to witness it will be disappointing.

How that scenario unfolded sums up Carty's roller-coaster career.

After all, it is not that long ago that we chatted in a small room in the Sportsground and he admitted that he wondered if he would ever get a call-up to the Ireland squad.

Seven months after he won his first cap, Carty has been propelled to the front of the queue and will lead Ireland in a crucial World Cup game.

With Joey Carbery fit again, Joe Schmidt could easily have turned to the Munster out-half, but he has backed Carty, who has impressed in all eight of his appearances thus far.

It is a remarkable story of resilience because in the midst of not getting a look-in with Ireland, Carty suffered a freak accident in 2016, which threatened to end his career.

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The arrival of Andy Friend is Galway was a huge turning point in the Athlone native's career. Carty has been given the licence to play what he sees and he has thrived.

Some wondered if that off-the-cuff style would be too open and expansive for Schmidt, and although it took Kiwi a while to give the 27-year-old a chance, his performances were consistently too good to ignore.

Decimation

Despite his excellent form, it does beg the question: what would he have thought if someone had told him this time last year that he would be running the show from the start in Ireland's second World Cup game.

"That there must have been a decimation of injuries," he laughs.

"It wouldn't have been something I would have had in the pipeline or had foreseen. It was just the way it materialised with the way the year went for me and with Connacht. I didn't see it happening at all, to be honest."

There might not be room for sentimentality in professional sport, yet Carty is one of the good guys, so the whole country will be behind him for what is the biggest test of his career.

Japan already genuinely feel that they can pull off a major upset in Shizuoka and seeing Johnny Sexton's absence from the team sheet will have come as another major boost.

"It's nearly every week that it's the biggest game," Carty smiles, relishing the challenge he has on his hands.

"The first couple in the Six Nations, you would have seen as the biggest one and things kept rolling. Pressure is what you make of it. I don't feel that much. I'm just really excited."

Carty's all-round game has gone up a notch in the last two years. His ability to take the ball flat to the line makes him a nightmare to defend against, while his goal-kicking has gone to new levels after spending countless hours working with Eric Elwood and Richie Murphy.

For all of that, however, his mental approach has allowed him to take the next step in his career, even if it did take longer than many expected.

"Probably just my overall mindset," Carty says of that improvement.

"Friendy coming in has been a breath of fresh air, the way he has allowed me to dictate the game and just see space, through hand or feet, and not to be so regimented in how we would have played over other years. That's given me confidence."

A minor footballer with Roscommon as well as playing for Ireland U-15 footballers, Carty is an all-rounder. That helps in terms of seeing space, but he admits that when it came to kicking, it took time to fine-tune his style.

"I definitely think it's something that for years probably hampered my goal-kicking because I kicked like I was kicking a GAA ball. In terms of line-kicking and kicking out of hand, GAA has helped, definitely."

Earlier this week, Ireland's skills and kicking coach Richie Murphy insisted that whoever replaced Johnny Sexton had to have the confidence to play his own game whilst fitting into the structures. Carty is confident he can do just that.

"Obviously I'm not going to try to be Johnny or Joey. I'm going to try and put my stamp on things and, look, the two lads have things that they're obviously better than me at and I'd like to think that I have things I can bring that might be better than them.

"I think it's just about me doing what I can do to put the team in a better position and obviously trying to keep diesel in the forwards' legs by putting the ball in front of them.

"It takes a bit of time to find your voice. I think I am still trying to find that because I have only had the one start. Obviously there aren't that many Connacht lads who would be used to the way I speak or how I direct people around the pitch. I am still getting used to that but it's the tone and how you speak to fellas that gives them confidence."

Carty will be helped by having a player of Conor Murray's experience inside him, but even still, tomorrow will just be his second ever start, so there are bound to be some nerves.

When Ireland were in Japan two years ago, Carty was on standby, so when Carbery was ruled out and the call didn't come, he was devastated. The call also didn't come last November when he was also told to keep his phone on in case of emergency.

"I was in Spain, I remember Joey got injured and I thought I might have got a call-up, but I didn't," he recalls.

Disappointed

"I was out for dinner with my sisters and girlfriend. I was all moody for two or three days and my missus was fired up too. I probably was expecting a call the next day. I was obviously disappointed. I wouldn't have thought all hope was lost.

"Probably where I didn't see myself getting in was November of last year when I thought I played well for a period of time and then I was on standby for that Italy in Chicago game. I think it was then.

"Look, I was just fortunate with how everything that has happened. A few injuries have went my way and then obviously my form has picked up."

Carty's form has picked up significantly, which is why Schmidt has put his full trust in him.

Ted and Susan might not be sitting in the stand, but they plan to return for the Samoa game. By that stage, their son might well have played a big role in steering Ireland towards a World Cup quarter-final.

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