McCarthy's inter-provincial move from Leinster to Munster makes sense

The 23-year-old will shift to Limerick next season on a two-year contract.

WARM ON THE heels of Joey Carbery making the move to Limerick, it’s been confirmed that his former Leinster team-mate Nick McCarthy will be joining him at Munster next season.

These are two very different deals, however.

Whatever the IRFU says publicly, the union was involved in at least facilitating Carbery’s inter-provincial switch during the summer.

With McCarthy, the IRFU was not involved until giving the final sign-off on the scrum-half’s two-year contract with Munster, as the union would do in the case of any new player signing.

Nick McCarthy celebrates after the game McCarthy after last season's Champions Cup semi-final. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

23-year-old McCarthy had a contract extension offer from Leinster on the table but his head was turned by Munster and the prospect of more extensive first-team opportunities with Johann van Graan’s side.

While Leinster’s contract offer underlines that they were keen to keep McCarthy, there is no ill feeling involved as the province understand the player’s personal decision.

With Luke McGrath and Jamison Gibson-Park firmly established as Leinster’s top two scrum-halves, McCarthy’s decision to shift south makes sense.

Gibson-Park is non-Irish-qualified at present, meaning McCarthy is likely to continue to get game time for Leinster over the course of the coming months due to the ‘non-European player’ rule. But that issue disappears next season as the Kiwi scrum-half becomes Ireland-eligible after three years of residency in Dublin.

McGrath is 25 and Gibson-Park is 26, so they’re likely to be around for some time yet.

30 senior appearances for Leinster over the past four years are not to be sneered at, and McCarthy played in the Pro14 semi-final and final, as well as the Champions Cup quarter-final and semi-final last season, but he anticipates those opportunities declining with Gibson-Park’s Irish qualification.

Conor Murray is top dog at Munster, of course, but he will be away with Ireland and his minutes will be managed at times over the course of the coming seasons.

While the re-contracted Neil Cronin will have something to say about it, McCarthy will back himself to get established as next-in-line after Murray at Munster, allowing him to rack up more games than he might have done at Leinster, the hope being to push on for senior international honours with Ireland.

Munster's James Hart James Hart is set to leave Munster at the end of the season. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

James Hart is set to leave Munster at the end of the season – he is French-qualified and kicks goals, so is likely to interest Top 14 and Pro D2 clubs – in order to ease any potential build-up of scrum-halves.

It’s expected that Alby Mathewson will also have left the province at that stage, whether or not his current four-month deal is extended for the rest of this season.

32-year-old Duncan Williams is out of contract at the end of the campaign and it remains to be seen whether he is kept on the books, but Murray, McCarthy and Cronin will be in the senior scrum-half depth chart next season.

Academy prospect Jack Stafford, the 21-year-old Wexford man, is another option for van Graan moving forward.

As for Leinster, their depth chart takes a blow with McCarthy’s decision to leave. Academy pair Hugh O’Sullivan and Patrick Patterson are highly-rated but have just a single senior cap between them, O’Sullivan coming off the bench against the Dragons last month.

There is a notable gap between those promising halfbacks and the established Gibson-Park and McGrath, although O’Sullivan is regarded as one of the most intelligent players in the Leinster set-up and Patterson is an energetic and exciting presence at nine.

The academy players have shared the starting scrum-half slot over the course of six wins from six in the pool stage of the Celtic Cup in recent weeks, ahead of the final against Scarlets A in Wales on Saturday.

McCarthy’s move to Munster is sure to lead to more complaints about Leinster being too heavily leaned on to provide players to the other provinces.

Nick McCarthy McCarthy will hope for greater opportunities in Munster. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There is certainly a fair argument to be made there and Munster know better than anyone that their own pipeline needs to be more productive in producing players.

For now, signing McCarthy makes sense. The former Ireland U20 captain already has 30 caps in senior rugby and possesses a great deal of further potential. 

Van Graan hasn’t been happy with Munster’s scrum-half situation since arriving as head coach, but is now moving towards a far more satisfactory situation.

Despite some of the possible criticism, inter-provincial transfers are a good thing for Irish rugby – although Leinster are the primary suppliers now.

It has worked the other way around at times in the past, with Munster natives Mike Ross, Eoin Reddan and Sean Cronin becoming key figures at Leinster – albeit with switches elsewhere in between.

Keeping players like McCarthy in the system can only be seen as a positive for Irish rugby and the hope is that others struggling to break into their provinces’ first team can offer something in one of the other three set-ups.

There will be concerns around diluting the identity of each province by bringing in players from outside, but if a province’s identity and culture is weak enough to be threatened by one or two non-native players joining, then it needs to be worked on. 

The fact is that homegrown talent will remain the cornerstone of each provincial team and supporters will, for the foreseeable future anyway, have plenty of native players to get behind.

Michael Lowry at Ulster, Dan Goggin at Munster, Colm de Buitléar at Connacht- the homegrown talent continues to come through outside Leinster, albeit at a different rate.

Dan Goggin with Gareth Steenson Dan Goggin has come through the Munster academy system. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

In Munster, van Graan is likely to make further changes to his squad at the end of the season – Ian Keatley, Dave O’Callaghan, Mike Sherry and Alex Wootton are also due to come out of contract in June 2019.

If those players aren’t retained, it will be interesting to see if they can offer value at another province. Irish players playing for the Irish provinces is always something to strive for.

As for McCarthy, he will hope to play a prominent role with Leinster for the remainder of this season before moving to Limerick.

Jordi Murphy went on to be a key man in Leinster’s run to the double after his switch to Ulster was announced last season and while McCarthy has strong competition at scrum-half, he will be keen to deliver something similar for his home province.

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Murray Kinsella

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