Listening to Joey Carbery talk of Munster’s limitless potential would cheer even the most pessimistic member of its Red Army of supporters, never mind the joy to be derived from the former Leinster fly-half’s love of life at his new province.
As Carbery approaches the end of his first campaign with Munster, and prepares to face old friends in Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 semi-final back at his old stomping ground in Dublin’s RDS, it’s hard to believe that it is still only a little under 12 months since the then-22-year-old announced his life-changing decision to leave Leinster in search of more game time in a number 10 jersey.
Explaining his decision last May as he prepared to tour Australia with Ireland, Carbery appeared less than overjoyed at the prospect of leaving behind all he had previously known about rugby in the bosom of the Leinster family. Yet fast-forward to this week and the New Zealand-born, Kildare-raised out-half could not be more content with his situation.
Now 23, and first-choice 10 for head coach Johann van Graan with 918 minutes from 14 appearances, the most recent 12 being all starts, Carbery did not hesitate to consolidate his position at Munster by signing a contract extension in March, with 15 months of his initial two-year deal still to run. It will keep him in red until at least June 2022 and no-one could be happier than the player himself, who called the decision “very easy”.
“I love it down here. I love the people, they’ve made me feel very welcome and I’m loving playing rugby down here as well.
“So, look, the potential is roofless — we can get wherever we want to. It will take work, it will take time, but it’s something we’ve definitely got.
“I think it was mutual. Both parties were pretty keen on it happening. From a personal side, for Munster to want me for another three years is pretty cool, especially after one year for them to have the courage in me to keep me on.
“I’m settled here. My parents live about an hour away, so it’s not bad at all for me... which is great.”
Of his undisguised emotions when he faced the media in Carton House 12 months ago, Carbery said: “I suppose it was so fresh and raw when I announced it that I was pretty unsure of what was going to happen.
“But the way the lads have taken me in and looked after me, I’ve loved it from the word go down here. It’s definitely been as good as I could have expected it.
“I love it down here and I don’t have to get on a plane to go home, I can always call home for an evening for dinner if mum’s cooking. It makes it a bit easier.”
This Saturday’s trip to the RDS will be significant for the fly-half, and not just because it used to be home. Carbery, if he comes through training this week, is set for his first start since the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against Edinburgh on March 30.
That was the day he limped out of Murrayfield with a recurrence of the hamstring injury he first sustained in February on Ireland duty, a couple of days after replacing an injured Johnny Sexton and guiding Ireland home to a Six Nations victory over Scotland, also at Murrayfield.
“I’m feeling pretty good. It’s obviously been a frustrating couple of months — hammies are quite niggly and so there were stages when I was going good, then going bad, and it was hard to call.
“I made a pact with the physios that I wouldn’t play until I was 100%, so I’ve been training the last couple of weeks and it feels pretty good. Hopefully now I’ll get through this week and, if I’m lucky enough to be selected, then I’ll be OK.”
Missing seven weeks at the business end of the season that included the Champions Cup semi-final defeat to Saracens in Coventry has understandably been a frustrating experience for a player whose development in his chosen position has accelerated at such a rate that he was nominated by his team-mates for Munster Player of the Year, alongside fellow new signing Tadhg Beirne, and captain Peter O’Mahony.
That was on the back of some brilliant performances, not least in the away European pool victory over Gloucester in January as Carbery continued to rebound from a shaky performance in Munster’s round-four defeat at Castres. Missing the Saracens clash, though, has also energised him for this weekend’s Leinster showdown.
“I am itching to get out and get back playing and, I suppose, boosted by the fact that I feel really good and not worrying about the injury as much which is great, so I really can’t wait for Saturday.”
Reaching the final would be, Carbery said, “huge”.
“Obviously I’ve signed on for another three years. I love it down here and I’m really excited. The potential for this team is endless really. We’re working hard to get a taste for silverware, I know how much it would spur us on to learn more and improve more. It’s huge for us now that we go out and put in a performance on Saturday.
“Having played for Leinster it is funny playing against them.
“Some of them would be really good mates of mine, but at the end of the day I’ve got to go out and do my job and I’m doing it for the side I want to be doing it for.
“It’s hugely exciting, playing in the semi-final of the PRO14 is huge — it doesn’t come around every day, so I’m really looking forward to it and hopefully we get a good performance.”