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25th Feb 2024

“I’m very glad I’m not coming up against Joe, and that he’s on my team.”

Patrick McCarry

“I was talking to Keith Earls, and he described him as a big child, full of energy and enthusiasm.”

It is nearing the end of a Caelan Doris chat, with ourselves and a group of journalists, when someone brings up Joe McCarthy. The 25-year-old breaks into a big grin.

“Yeah, he’s a great character. We had different groups on the team bus in France for our journeys and he was on ‘Thought of the Day’. He had some very funny thoughts, which caused a lot of enjoyment for the group. He’s gas.

“Joe is this bubbly, happy-go-lucky sort of a character, but he also works extremely hard and has very high ambitions and aspirations for himself, and has the plan on how to get there. You see him diligently working his way towards that and see the improvements he’s making. He’s been very impressive, has a good head on his shoulders, as well as being great craic.”

Having been born in New York, Joe McCarthy played his schools rugby with Willow Park and then Blackrock, before going on to represent Trinity College, like teammate Ryan Baird. He first got some national attention with the Ireland U20s in a 2020 Six Nations campaign that was cut short at three games due to the Covid pandemic.

Legend has it Ireland were in Faro, Portugal for a training camp, back in 2020, when Farrell saw him tearing it up for the U20s, on a TV in the bar. He turned and is said to have asked, ‘Who the f**k is the big guy?!’

Joe McCarthy of Ireland during the Guinness Six Nations match against Italy at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

”Joe McCarthy is a big, ignorant young-fella’

Joe McCarthy had to wait until January 2022 to make his full Leinster debut, and has ended up starting eight of his 11 senior games. He was called into the Ireland training squad, in 2022, and Andy Farrell clearly had plans for him – all 6-foot-6 and 120kgs – as a mobile lock that can add some heft to his pack. That was confirmed when he made the touring squad to New Zealand and faced the Maori All Blacks, while getting up to speed with the Test squad.

Like Calvin Nash and Ciáran Frawley, who ended up not making the final World Cup cut, McCarthy got so much out of his big 2023/24 pre-season in the Ireland set-up. After his tournament bow against Romania, Wales and Lions legend Alun Wyn Jones declared, “He was credit to the second-row position today.”

McCarthy ended up forcing himself into the match-day 23 for the quarter final loss to New Zealand then hit the ground running for Leinster, after returning home. He is, right now, in the middle of a magnificent season.

A host of English reporters showed up at Welford Road to see Leicester Tigers put it up to Leinster in the Champions Cup. Each of them left talking about McCarthy. It was during that same game that former Ireland prop Mike Ross wrote, ‘Joe McCarthy is a big, ignorant young-fella, and I mean that in the best possible way.’

Just a couple of weeks later, he was booming into Les Bleus, at Stade Velodrome. He won man-of-the-match, gave the medal to his ecstatic brother, in the crowd, and Andrew Trimble declared:

“He’s got that kind of thuggery about him that we don’t see with Irish athletes, we don’t see second rows that can bully big French second rows in the South of France, it doesn’t happen!”

Joe McCarthy of Ireland with his parents Joe and Paula, and brother Andrew after his side’s victory over France, at Stade Velodrome in Marseille. (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile)

The hole-puncher. The difference-maker

Back in 2012, Brodie Retallick announced himself to the wider world, aged 21, by twatting Ireland about the place, over three Tests. There is a lot of that raw yet devastating Retallick in Joe McCarthy.

Against France, he got through a tonne of work and sent a few players back where they came from, with change. He also made a host of carries over and comfortably beyond the gainline. A week later, he was a marauder and an enforcer against Italy. In the 31-7 win over Wales, it showed how seriously he is already being taken.

At the half-hour mark, in Dublin, Ireland were camped in the Welsh 22 after winning a scrum penalty and kicking for touch. Fervid Welsh defence had done well to shove Ireland back off their tryline. McCarthy then showed up with three contributions in less than 30 seconds that broke down the door.

With the referee’s back turned (on 30:55) he ran a decoy straight into Tommy Reffell and Nick Tompkins, just to give Peter O’Mahony a clearer run. He then helped secure the ruck (31:01) so Jamison Gibson-Park could get a quick pass off to Josh van der Flier.

Caelan Doris made the next carry and (31:10), McCarthy was already back around the corner, looking for the next carry. He punched through Aron Wainwright, evaded Tompkins and it needed Adam Beard to ground him. That one carry had fractured the Welsh defence and a penalty was coming for Ireland, but (31:16) Gibson-Park knew it was time to pounce. Sure enough, through Crowley and Nash and on to James Lowe. 17-0.

Following the game, Josh van der Flier reflected on that impact Joe McCarthy is managing to have with satisfying consistency. The flanker told us:

“Oh, he’s brilliant. I don’t know how he does it, to be honest. I find it hard, at 104 kilos, running around and trying to be explosive. He’s doing it at… I don’t know what weight he is, but he’s heavy!

“He’s an unbelievable athlete. He works very, very hard at his game. He is one of those players that – and certainly this season we’ve seen it – has such a destructive impact, whether it is in attack and defence. He’s a great lad, as well, and I’m very glad I’m not coming up against him, and that he’s on my team.”

Back in 2022, when he selected a 21-year-old McCarthy to tour New Zealand, Andy Farrell said, “There’s tremendous potential there. Hopefully we’ll come away with a gem at the end of this tour, with Joe.”

Ahead of the World Cup, the Ireland boss teed up a big tournament role by saying, “He’s a young fella on a mission.”

If anything, Farrell could have under-sold it.


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