LEGENDARY LEINSTER SECOND row Malcolm O’Kelly believes Mike McCarthy can be every bit as effective for the province as his predecessors Brad Thorne and Nathan Hines.
The number five jersey has proved a difficult one for Joe Schmidt to fill, with Thorne drafted in last season and injury befalling potential replacements such as Quinn Roux.
But O’Kelly who played over 180 times for the eastern province, sees the Connacht lock as the best option yet.
“I think Leinster have been looking for a real solid second row,” said O’Kelly, “they had Brad Thorne last year, Nathan Hines the year before that and yours truly for about 10 years before that.
“So they were really looking for a good replacement and in Mike McCarthy they’ll get that. He’s tried and tested, he’s now international calibre after making a transition from the back-row.
The acquisition of McCarthy has raised questions over the faith held for Devin Toner by the Leinster coaching team. However, O’Kelly pointed out that the seven-footer is still five years younger than McCarthy in a position which tends to reward older more battle-hardened souls.
“He’s probably (got) another couple of years before he is fully developed- with second rows it takes a while. Guys have to learn the trade.”
With the current European champions’ first team becoming more difficult to break into, O’Kelly suggested that some of the current crop could be best served by leaving Leinster, perhaps even to offer Connacht a direct replacement.
“Some of the academy guys might be looking at a long queue and some of those guys might need to travel – maybe to Connacht, they could do a player swap.”
He added: “We want to see players playing games and some of the Leinster academy second rows really need to get out and get in the mix, playing at lower divisions or in the Premiership. Our academy guys are big guys, they just need to learn the game.”
“Robin Copeland is a great example of that.” Continued O’Kelly, pointing to the example of the Cardiff Blues’ Dublin-born forward.
“I wouldn’t say he was discarded from Leinster, he was very determined to continue playing. He started in the second division with Plymouth and then he moved on up to Cardiff.
“He did incredibly well in the Championship and now he got his first Heineken Cup start last week.
“He was a great talent with St Mary’s for a few years. a real athletic build. A year or two from now Leinster might look at recruiting a guy like that.”
Malcolm O’Kelly was speaking at the launch of the Legends Charity Game in which he will represent an Ireland selection against England in aid of seriously injured players on February 9.
For more information visit IrelandEnglandLegends.com
-Additional reporting by Pat McCarry