Jack Carty has been so synonymous with Connacht in recent years, that it’s easy to forget he effectively missed out on their greatest triumph.
The Athlone native was part of the squad in 2016, but a spleen injury suffered on a waterslide in Dubai cost him his place in the team, and it was AJ MacGinty who led the backline on that fateful day in Murrayfield.
He’s gone on to achieve much in the green jersey of his home province, but one of the reasons he has chosen to commit the next three years of his life to the project is that sense of unfinished business.
Carty believes Connacht are on the right trajectory to scale those heights again and the thought of tuning in from an English, French or Japanese club just wouldn’t have felt right.
Having strongly considered a move last winter before committing to a one-year deal, this time the 29-year-old decided to sign until 2025.
“There’s things I can’t say, but in terms of the group and the squad of players there now, they’re every bit as good as the squad we had in 2016,” he said of the conversations he had with the club over committing. “The squad can only be as good as the coaches and what they’re giving us, I think that’s the exciting part.
“There’s the new pitch going in, hopefully, in the next year or so, and we also have the stadium (redevelopment).
“Coupled with all of those things is that feeling from 2016 that I wasn’t involved and seeing how everything is going at the moment, it’s something that, if you didn’t stay, it would have been something you’d end up regretting with everything we’re cooking at the moment.”
Ireland is a factor. Carty’s omission from the original squad for the November internationals caused a stir and he admits he felt like he was in a good place after guiding the team to victory over Munster before Andy Farrell announced his panel.
The Covid-19 scare on the eve of the New Zealand game saw him called into camp and when Johnny Sexton hurt his knee in that game, he was asked to come in for the final week. While there, he felt comfortable enough to think that his time will come again.
“I’d like to think if I can brush up a couple of things, continue the form I’ve had, I’d be there or thereabouts,” he said. “All the other No 10s, Joey (Carbery) and Johnny have been playing really well the last couple of weeks, there’s a right old battle between a couple of players.
“If I can continue how I’ve been going, stay lucky with injuries and stuff like that, that’s how I got my chance the last time. I’d like to think that’s how I can get it again.
“Even just having the face in the picture (is good). If it was a case where I didn’t get in and Johnny didn’t get injured and it was during the Six Nations, it’d be another five or six months down the line. Five, six months down the line is further away from the World Cup and further away from a New Zealand tour.
“Touch wood, I’ve been fortunate enough with injuries, so I was just happy to get in and see how they’re changing things. The way we’re playing here, there are a lot of similarities. Previously, when I went in, I would have been blowing during sessions, but to see the intensity is quite similar between the two, that’s a sign we’re doing good stuff here.”
While on-field ambition was a major part of the call, Carty is also looking beyond his playing career as he contemplates a move into the family business at the pork and bacon factory in Athlone.
“The squad we have, I feel I’m growing as a player and leader, and then that family element,” he said. “I want to stick around, my parents are getting older and there’s a family business I’d like to get involved in. If I went away for four or five years, there wouldn’t have been that opportunity.
“Speaking to a lot of lads who go away, faraway hills aren’t always greener. People talk about the sun in France, but they kind of forget you’re away from family and friends, and it can be a toss-up in terms of what sort of environment you’re in.
“When you mixed all those things together, there’s only one decision for me.”