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'It helped me a lot when someone came and asked me how I was' - Carbery

Joey Carbery on taking care of his mental health, challenging Johnny Sexton and working on his leadership.

Joey Carbery has been announced as the newest ambassador for Tackle Your Feelings.
Joey Carbery has been announced as the newest ambassador for Tackle Your Feelings.

TWO GAMES INTO this Guinness Six Nations championship, Joey Carbery already has 95 minutes of action under his belt.

To put that into some perspective, he missed the entirety of last year’s Six Nations, as well the 2020 and 2017 championships. He played just 63 minutes in the 2019 championship and 59 minutes in 2018. 

If Carbery is going to be the man to succeed Johnny Sexton in the Ireland 10 shirt, this has the feel of a pivotal international window for a talented out-half who has had rotten luck with injuries.

It’s been a long time since Carbery was the next big thing in Irish rugby. He’s 26 now, with 29 Test caps to his name. Even the dogs on the street know that Saturday’s defeat to France was, remarkably, his first Six Nations start, over five years on from his Ireland debut. It was also only his 10th start for Ireland in the 10 shirt.

So while Carbery was bitterly disappointed to leave the Stade de France without the win, he will also have allowed himself to indulge in some personal pride. These are the big championship days he’s been dying to have a crack at. 

“I took a day, I think I watched it (back) Monday afternoon,” Carbery explains. “It was nice just to switch off and let things soak in a little bit I suppose before going back and watching it straight away.” 

Carbery has become better at appreciating the good moments. Speaking in his role as an ambassador for Tackle Your Feelings today, he explained how he used to bottle up his frustrations during those difficult injury struggles. He touched on how things like sports psychology and being conscious of his mental health were always on his radar as a young player, but became increasingly important as the setbacks piled up.

“A big thing for me would be leaning on my support network, my friends and family,” Carbery continues.

joey-carbery Saturday's defeat to France was Carbery's first Six Nations start. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Being able to reach out to them for help and ask them about certain things, or even just being able to have a conversation with them.”

It’s also made him more conscious of checking in with others. 

“It’s opened my eyes up to a lot, asking people how they are, my teammates especially, because it is quite a tough place to be sometimes.

You can kind of see how people are, and if they’re a little bit off, it helped me a lot when someone came and asked me how I was. It starts the initial conversation, so being able to be aware of that has definitely broadened the horizons a bit.”

Of course, it’s not just fractured bones and damaged ligaments that have prevented Carbery clocking up more minutes at international level. Enter the immovable force of Irish rugby, Johnny Sexton – 10 years Carbery’s senior and still playing some of the best rugby of his career with an eye to leading the team at next year’s World Cup. 

For many pundits, news of Sexton’s absence last week immediately tipped the balance back towards France, and even after Carbery delivered such a positive display in Paris, the Sexton comments arrived quick and fast during the debrief. Shane Horgan told Virgin Media’s post-match coverage that “with Johnny Sexton at 10, Ireland win that game.” No doubt plenty of heads nodded in agreement at their TV screens.

The two out-halves have a good working relationship, but some of the comments and interest from outside camp must be strange for Carbery. No other player in Ireland is so regularly compared to and directly analysed against one other individual.   

“If you look at it like that, it’s tough,” Carbery says of the comparisons, “but the way I look at it is just trying to put Ireland first. In the environment we’re in that’s the main thing.

It’s obvious that we both want the same jersey, but the relationship is good, it’s not negative and there are a lot of positives from it. It’s a bit of a compliment to be always compared to him, or to be in the same conversation. Personally, I’m trying to get better from it and see where it brings me.”

It’s clear Carbery has the talent, but what he doesn’t have yet is Sexton’s experience. With that in mind, he’s been making a conscious effort to work on the leadership side of his game, seeking out advice from others within the Ireland set-up.

“A lot of work to be done still, but I feel like I’m getting a lot better. It comes back to getting the game time and getting the experience in the games, and being able to physically do it.

“Then it’s about having conversations with coaches about certain teams, sometimes it’s not even leading by what you say, it’s about body language and actions. There’s so much to learn about it and Johnny is very good at (it). It’s something I can watch back in training, watch back in games and add to my game because at 10 you’re in quite a pivotal position to control guys around you. The more assertive I can be, it helps the guys around me.

I might even randomly sit down beside someone at dinner, it doesn’t really have to be the coaches or someone in the leadership group, and ask was I loud enough? Did they hear me? It’s really beneficial and I can get a lot from it. It’s just about keeping an open mind on it, because there’s so many ways you can get better at it.”

The good news is that Ireland’s current attacking system looks tailor-made for Carbery’s strengths on the ball.

“It’s seriously enjoyable to be playing in. There’s various options, and I think having the forwards and other guys around me who can play ball and are able to pass on the line, it just makes everyone’s job so much easier. It’s really enjoyable, and it actually makes my job a lot easier, so we (10s) probably shouldn’t get as much credit as we get.”

Yet ball in hand is only one part of a 10′s role. Much was made about how les Bleus would try target Carbery in the 10 channel, looking to make inroads against a less physical out-half who could be forgiven for wanting to protect himself against the bigger collisions. He finished a bruising contest with nine tackles made and just one missed, a touch of cramp the only complaint as he exited the field in the dying minutes.

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joey-carbery-comes-up-against-anthony-jelonch Carbery runs into traffic against France. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I’ve tried to work a lot on my tackle technique,” Carbery continues, adding that he’s feeling good heading into the final three rounds of the championship.

“Having a good tackle technique helps prevent a lot of injuries, and I’ve worked a lot with Simon (Easterby) in camp on getting my foot close and just getting the right elements into it. So that’s given me confidence to go into those tackles. And I suppose, it’s not a good way to think, if you’re thinking about getting injured, so I try not to. I try to focus on the parts that I can control, and falling back on my technique helps me a lot.

“We go back into camp tomorrow, so I’m sure we’ll debrief France and make a plan going forward. I don’t know anything yet (about selections) but I feel like I have come into camp with a lack of gametime, just trying to train really well and get back up to speed. Hopefully I can keep doing that and the belief in the team is that we can still do it.

“It’s a really encouraging spot to be in.”

As part of the Tackle Your Feelings campaign, Rugby Players Ireland were joined by Joey Carbery to support the #ImTakingControl campaign which provides people with the tools to ‘Take Control’ of their mental wellbeing using sport psychology and positive psychology principles.

Ireland legend Rob Kearney joined host Seán Burke, Murray Kinsella and Eimear Considine for the first episode of The Front Row, in partnership with Guinness. Rob ​​speaks about his most euphoric moment in a green jersey, life after retirement, a “brutal” return to the GAA pitch, and his skincare routine. Click here to subscribe or listen below:


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Ciarán Kennedy

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