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Footballing talent Carty committed to furthering Connacht cause

The 22-year-old has pedigree in soccer and GAA, but the westerners have benefited from his choice to focus on rugby.

Carty in Connacht's new away jersey.
Carty in Connacht's new away jersey.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

IN AN ALTERNATIVE universe, Jack Carty would be preparing for Southampton’s Premier League clash with Tottenham on Sunday, rather than getting set for Connacht’s home clash against the Cardiff Blues in the Guinness Pro12.

The 22-year-old out-half was a talented footballer as he grew up, lining out for Ireland at U15 and U16 levels. That international involvement saw Southampton invite the Athlone youngster for trials in England.

“I went to the Kennedy Cup with ADSL [the Athlone District Schoolboys' team], that would have been U13s,” explains Carty. “I subsequently got to play with Ireland U15s and then off the back of that, I was offered trials with Southampton. This is when they had just been relegated from the Premiership.

It was pretty exciting. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually get to go over because this was at the time that they got taken over by some Sheikh and a transfer embargo was imposed on them. It was disappointing that I actually never got to go over.”

The circumstances have ultimately been to Connacht’s gain, as Carty gradually moved away from soccer and Gaelic football to dedicate his sporting skills to rugby on a full-time basis.

Having come through the Buccaneers club underage ranks with Robbie Henshaw and Danny Qualter, Carty says that it was around Junior Cup time “when I got more serious” about rugby.

The Athlone man found time to captain Roscommon to a Connacht U16 football title as his rugby passion grew, and even went on to play an All-Ireland quarter-final for the county at minor level.

Connacht’s underage and academy gurus Nigel Carolan, Antoine Mobian and Charlie Cooper recognised the potential Carty had in the oval ball game and made Carty’s eventual choice to drop the other two sports “an easy decision.”

Jack Carty Carty [right] made his senior Connacht debut against Glasgow in 2012. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Carty’s call soon began to show rewards through Ireland caps with the U18s and U19s, while domestically he was part of Connacht’s victorious U20 inter-provincial campaign in 2011.

Carolan took charge of that Connacht side and went on to guide Carty through the province’s academy, of which he has been manager since 2004. Behind the scenes, Carolan is a major player for Connacht.

“Myself, Conor Finn, Shane Layden, Robbie, Kieran Marmion and even Darragh Leader, we would have been his first, I suppose, team that would have been successful in winning the interpros,” says Carty.

“I suppose Nigel would have always had a soft spot for us, that we accomplished that. We would have been the first young lads that would have stayed up in Galway, and would have been that first sub-academy group.

So he nurtured us from a young age, looked after us really well, attended to all our needs. You can see that that’s reaping dividends now.”

What sets Carolan apart as a coach? His expertise has, after all, seen the likes of Carty, Henshaw, Marmion, Leader, and many others push into Connacht’s first team at young ages.

“Obviously I haven’t been coached by every coach out there, but even from hearing from players in other provinces when they’ve had him at U19 and U18 level, they say he’s second to none technically,” outlines Carty.

“He’s by far one of the best in the country. You could say that he’s really easygoing, but his attention to detail and his willingness to help and encourage you along the way is something that really stands out for me.”

Academy Manager Nigel Carolan Academy manager Nigel Carolan has been a key figure in the emergence of Connacht's youthful backline. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Carty’s success with the U20s saw him earn selection for Mike Ruddock’s Ireland squad, for whom he played at the Junior World Championship in 2012, starting one game and making three further appearances off the bench.

Those underage achievements are but memories now, after Carty burst onto the senior scene last season, starting three games for Pat Lam’s Connacht and generally exciting the province’s fans with his ability.

While Leader and Ian Porter have been called on by Lam for place-kicking duties in the early part of the season, Carty is hopeful of claiming that responsibility as his own, having enjoyed the burden throughout his youth.

You always associate the fly-half with kicking goals,” says Carty. “I was unfortunate that I had to get an ankle reconstruction in the latter part of last year.

“I suppose that’s hindered me a small bit at the start of the season, but I’ve been working closely with [backs and kicking coach] Andre Bell this year and Eamonn Molloy [a coaching development manager] last year.

“Hopefully now this weekend, I’ll be back kicking and getting back to my old ways.”

Every young out-half in rugby is scrutinised for his competence in managing games, making the right decisions in the right areas of the field and ensuring that his side keeps on the right side of the momentum swings within each game.

Niyi Adeolokun, Mils Muliaina and Jack Carty Carty with wing Niyi Adeolokun and fullback Mils Muliaina. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

For Carty, the shared inexperience around him means that task is an even greater one.

“It’s a really young backline in Connacht at the moment, so there is an extra thing where our game management has to be a step above where other teams would be.

“Obviously, we can get kind of excited when we get scores on the board, but it’s really important exiting properly. Something I’m trying to build on is my game management, to make sure it improves week on week.”

Carty’s attacking skills are in no doubt, but there is the small matter of ensuring his defence is strong too. Opposition teams will invariably target the out-half’s channel, and Carty admits his D was not up to scratch against Leinster two weekends ago.

A lot of playing 10 is having consistency in everything you do. My defence needs to be a bigger onus and to have consistency in that. I suppose if you miss two or three tackles in a game, you’re going to find out the following week because they’re going to throw fellas down your channel.

“Against Glasgow – I maybe fell off one or two easy tackles against Leinster – so I had Jimmy Downey and a few big boys running down my channel. I suppose if you tick your boxes during the week and get those extras done, it’ll pay dividends at the weekend.”

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Murray Kinsella

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