Spate of previous injuries means Carbery can benefit from lay-off

The out-half will hope to hit the ground running in pre-season and make up for lost time.

OH, FOR THE sultry summer air of August, when all still seemed possible.

Joey Carbery was back gliding across grass, knitting together Ireland’s attack with a clever array of kicks and that smooth effortless pass.

We began to forget the crushing blows to confidence suffered in Cardiff and at home to England. A tournament format, when small squads and condensed schedule contrive to create greater space, would be the ideal setting for the Munster playmaker to shine.

Then, nine minutes into the second half against Italy, disaster struck for Carbery, for Munster.

joey-carbery-leaves-the-field-with-an-injury James Crombie / INPHO Carbery is helped to the stretcher cart in the Aviva Stadium in August. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The ankle injury looked like it must surely end his hope of heading to Japan, but after the Athy man had been carted off, Ireland continued to offer him hope.

He gritted his teeth and duly made it back to face the hosts. By then, of course, the tide was dragging the deposed world number one side down and the Munster 10 would grace the pitch just four more times in the entire season, twice more reporting injured after full-time whistles had blown.

Rugby players routinely say that injury is simply part and parcel of the sport, but Carbery has been cruelly haunted by it over the last three years.

Twenty-one and seemingly ready to fill the void as Jonathan Sexton recovered from hamstring trouble, Carbery injured ankle ligaments in Leinster’s December 2016 away win over Northampton. Ross Byrne stepped in for early European exposure and ate up every chance.

Dividing time between out-half and fullback, he was back with Leinster during the following Six Nations and back in green for the 2017 summer Test against the USA, a match that he ended with another grimace and a rueful look towards his ankle.

In November of that same year, the not-yet-Munster man again lit up the Aviva with flashes of jinking excellence before a thunderous Fijian tackle left him with a fractured wrist.

That’s three injuries in his six Test starts. And following his 56 minutes off the bench in Scotland in last year’s Six Nations, a hamstring issue sidelined him for the remainder of the tournament.

So it’s little wonder that Johann van Graan, the Munster head coach who works hard to keep a pokerface and toe reasonable party lines, could barely disguise his annoyance that his star 10 had been brought to Japan after another ankle issue in August. 

“The most important thing now is Joey’s health now,” Van Graan said pointedly in November.

“He is a Munster player. He is under my watch now so we’ve got to look after him; get his ankle right.”

joey-carbery-and-keith-earls Dan Sheridan / INPHO Carbery walks off after his only start for Munster this season, with Keith Earls. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Unfortunately for Van Graan, it was on his watch when a further knock befell Carbery in his first Munster start of the season; a wrist injury came before the decision to send the 24-year-old for corrective ankle surgery.

All things considered, standing down the dynamic star for the four or five months ahead appears a very sensible, though overdue, call.

It’s worth remembering the whirlwind of Carbery’s rise that came before he was put on this treadmill of injury, recovery, peak performance and repeat.

Six months before he helped Ireland beat the All Blacks in Chicago, he was starring for Clontarf in the AIL and had just four minutes under his belt with Leinster.

By the time December 2016 rolled in and his ankle rolled him out of action, he had played 14 times in the three months around his 21st birthday.

irelands-josh-van-der-flier-and-joey-carbery-at-the-end-of-the-match Billy Stickland / INPHO Carbery and Josh van der Flier celebrate Ireland's first ever win over New Zealand. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

The Auckland-born man’s graceful athleticism and fluid skill-set make him an invaluable option who can play arguably four places along the back-line. So it must have truly been a wrench for both Munster and Carbery to make the call for surgery and a long lay-off. 

Opening this window for him to go under the knife and recover without the dangled carrot of a crucial fixture looming will, with any luck, serve his body well for a long career to come. Who knows, Covid-19 may yet even present him a chance to play in this year’s Six Nations if fixtures wind up being held over until the second half of the year. So discretion feels far more useful than valour at this juncture.

As things stand, the player will miss Munster’s tilt at the Pro14 and a second chance to tour Australia. Perhaps just as crucially, he is missing time to sync up with new coaches at provincial and national level.

joey-carbery-and-tadhg-beirne Bryan Keane / INPHO Munster will hope to have all guns blazing next season. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Munster’s attacking approach since Steven Larkham has taken hold has been a breath of fresh air. The results – albeit in an exceptionally tough Champions Cup pool – have not matched what innovative performances have promised, yet you can’t help but watch Munster and feel that they will be all the slicker in year two of Larkham’s coaching.

And, unquestionably, the recovering 10 can thrive once he is fit and able against to sustain a run in that system.

With Murray, Carbery, De Allende for starters in the Munster back-line, all things begin to look possible again.

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