'Old banger' Mike McCarthy ready to prang Wales

He was a couple of months shy of a 34th birthday, some way off pulling up trees and then omitted from Joe Schmidt’s squad for the World Cup, but Mike McCarthy never thought his Ireland career had ended after just the 17 caps.
'Old banger' Mike McCarthy ready to prang Wales

The power of positive thinking, eh?

“I was confident I would get back in,” he said after being named in the side to face Wales. “There’s a lot of talk about my age but I don’t feel 34, my body feels really good. Hopefully I can keep on playing for another three or four years. I’m negotiating with Leinster and hopefully I will be staying.”

The aim is to make it to 38, which isn’t an outlandish prospect for a lock given the longevity players such as Brad Thorn have enjoyed in the role. Do that and, who knows, he may yet make up for last year’s disappointment and be on a plane to Japan in 2019.

That’s a long, long shot. Being involved this week is good enough for now. Checking in to the Shelbourne in midweek, holding a tackle bag in training at the Aviva: he may feel giddy as a rookie, but he is anything but.

McCarthy described himself as “an old banger” last December before the 300th club game of a career that includes two spells with Connacht and a time at Newcastle Falcons. That was before he went out and put in a seriously destructive shift against Toulon.

Simon Easterby, the Ireland forwards coach, referenced that performance when seeking to counter all the chatter about Paul O’Connell and the handful of other absent leaders this week, though that was hardly a first.

McCarthy is no shrinking violet.

He was the ripe old age of 29 when he made his Test debut and that international career was just five games old by the time he claimed a man-of-the-match award for a beastly effort in the 16-12 loss to South Africa in November of 2012.

This was a Springbok side rippling with the Veldt beef of Duane Vermeulen, Francois Louw, Eben Etzebeth and too many others to mention. Sufficient to point out here perhaps they had Schalk Brits on the replacements’ bench so it’s a week he remembers fondly.

“Paulie was named to start and I didn’t think I was going to be involved, not even on the bench. Then, on the Tuesday evening, I was given the heads up that Paulie was struggling with his back and it gave me an opportunity to get a bit of preparation in because I hadn’t run any of the play on the Monday or the Tuesday.

“I found out on the Wednesday I was starting. It wasn’t the best preparation but it worked out okay.”

That muscle will be at a premium this weekend against a Welsh side replete with biceps, belief and no little brilliance and nowhere is that more obvious than in McCarthy’s bailiwick where the opposition locks will consist of Alun Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris. Oh, and with Bradley Davies to spring from the bench.

“They have a very strong team, a lot of caps, a lot of experience,” said McCarthy whose one appearance against the Welsh came in Cardiff three years ago when Simon Zebo produced ‘that’ flick of the boot on the way to a 30-22 win.

“They’ve really gelled together having played together.

“Obviously it’s going to be a physical game and the weather is going to be similar to what it is today so it’s really going to be a day in the trenches where you have to front up and try and be the best you can be.”

His is an unenviable task, really. Devin Toner’s, too. Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw have done brilliantly in stepping in for the retired Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy but even that raises the stakes further for the pair who must shine in O’Connell’s lingering shadow.

“I feel we have been solid enough,” said McCarthy when this season’s Leinster struggles were held up as a less than positive portent.

“Obviously, the results have been disappointing but we know there is plenty of things we can be doing better.”

No pressure, lads.

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