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Opinion: McCarthy exit hard for Connacht, but fair

Mike McCarthy should be grateful to the western province, but not to the detriment of his career.

Image: ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

JUST WHEN CONNACHT had appeared to have scraped and scrapped enough to win a place at the top table, they are slapped down.

With loose talk of poaching flying back and forth in recent weeks, today’s confirmation that Mike McCarthy will scrum down with Leinster next season is tough to take for the western province, but they will simply have to grimace and bear it.

Mike McCarthy is out of contract at the end of the season. No matter how much Connacht contributed to his current status, they cannot lay claim to him beyond that.

At 31 years of age the London-born lock will no doubt remain grateful to his current club for the opportunity to show his worth and play rugby at the top level. They have given McCarthy a platform to push onto the international stage. And there, in Paul O’Connell’s absence, he continued to excel.

Was the rugby world supposed to ignore him as if he was their best mate’s ex-girlfriend? ’No, we can’t go near Mike, he’s got roots in the west.’

It’s easy to whip up some faux-rage in support of the underdog, especially when the poor are being ‘robbed’ for the benefit of the rich and successful. Fingers will inevitably be pointed to the recent examples of Leinster snapping up Fionn Carr, Sean Cronin and Isaac Boss, but this is sport.

Problem solved

Leinster have a long-standing problem in the tight-head side of the second row. Since Nathan Hines’ departure nobody – whether by fitness or fallibility – has been able to nail the place down.

When McCarthy does show up in UCD for pre-season training next (barring a bolt for the Lions tour) August, he will viewed as first choice ahead of another Connacht lock, Damian Browne. But Leinster ‘targeted’ Browne as a Brive player, so that makes it okay.

There will be some horse-trading in in the new year and Connacht will use their sense of injustice to wrangle a replacement from the other provinces.

It would be nice if the new director of  rugby appointed by the IRFU to smooth relations between the provinces could ensure that Connacht were not just getting players who are surplus to requirements, but stars in the making who need to do more than being a 24th man in a match-day squad or experienced heads with plenty left to give.

With a return across the Shannon a possibility for Cronin and Carr, and a move for Jordi Murphy also mooted, Connacht’s squad will not be left entirely stripped.

Besides, the chances are that Eric Elwood’s successor won’t have a Heineken Cup campaign to fret over. It’s worth remembering that they would not have had an opportunity to knock lumps out of Harlequins and Biarritz if it were not for the astonishing feat of Leinster.

Pic: INPHO/James Crombie

Much as we would all like four provinces working towards one goal, dividing resources so that we have four clubs of equal standing, they are not all in this fight together. These are competing entities and Tom Sears’ assertion that this move is bad for Irish Rugby is wide of the mark.

Of course, Connacht would have loved to keep McCarthy. Plenty if clubs would have happily shelled out more than the IRFU are offering for a second row who has proved himself against top-tier opposition.

It’s a painful blow to take, but this is precisely what made players like Eric Elwood and John Muldoon so special. Not everyone is of a mind to stick it out in Galway when the chance of playing at a consistently high level comes around.

At 31, McCarthy was unlikely to get another shot at the big-time. He is a professional, and Connacht should enjoy his talents while still at their disposal.

No better opportunity for that than 29 December when the RDS will host the warring factions.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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