Ireland mourns Slam hero Jim McCarthy

Rugby is mourning another of its finest sons as Ireland, Munster and Lions star Jim McCarthy died yesterday, aged 90.

McCarthy played 28 times for Ireland, was a member of the Grand Slam winning side of 1948 and toured with the highly-successful Lions in New Zealand and Australia in 1950.

But he will always be best remembered for the try he scored against Wales at St Helens, Swansea, in 1949 that enabled Ireland to win a second successive Triple Crown.

McCarthy passed away yesterday, at the age of 90 having enjoyed a highly-successful sporting and business career. He loved to reminisce about the many great games he played for CBC, Dolphin, Munster, Ireland and the Lions and happily recalled the famous Swansea try in an interview with the Examiner many years later.

“A lineout was followed by a ruck around the Welsh 25,” he said. “We won the ball and Jack Kyle went left to the blind side before kicking inwards. Frank Trott, the Welsh full-back, was under it but I came racing up, launched myself into the air, caught the ball and my momentum carried me over the line with three or four Welshmen hanging on to me. George Norton converted and from then on, we were on top.”

Jim McCarthy’s rugby career began at Christian Brothers College, Cork. In 1941, he was captain of the side that lost to Mungret College in the final of the Munster Schools Junior Cup. He had ample compensation when Christians captured the Senior Cup two years later, beating Rockwell in the decider.

His cousin, Gerald Aherne, was a member of the losing side but they were team-mates when Dolphin defeated Garryowen in the Munster Senior Cup final in 1944. He was just 19 at the time and they retained the trophy 12 months later when other colleagues included two other Irish greats, Bertie O’Hanlon and Dave O’Loughlin.

There was a widespread belief at the time that for all his potential, McCarthy didn’t possess the physical attributes to make the grade at the highest level.

He admitted that he never togged out at more than 12 stone 7 lbs but he performed so well for Dolphin (he won a third cup medal in 1948) and Munster that he had to be rewarded with a first Irish cap against France in Paris on New Year’s Day 1948. He celebrated with a try as Ireland took the first step towards the Grand Slam. Of that famous achievement, he stated: “When you have tried too hard for something and finally you get it, the immediate after-effect is one of anti-climax. Afterwards, of course, it sank in and was really marvellous.”

“The red head of McCarthy popped up everywhere,” wrote one journalist after the clinching victory over Wales at Ravenhill, Belfast. His death means that his old clubmate Bertie O’Hanlon, Paddy Reid of Garryowen and Mick O’Flanagan are the only survivors of the Grand Slam-winning side.

As for his lack of pounds and inches, McCarthy was entirely philosophical: “A light wing-forward has to make up his mind that he must do things that a bigger man cannot. He accepts that he won’t be a great help in scrums, rucks and lineouts. To compensate, he must be very fast to be first to the ball, he must be able to tackle and always in position to give and take a pass.”

He put those beliefs to good use when touring with the Lions in New Zealand when he scored four tries. After that he went on to distinguish himself for club, province and country to rightfully enter the annals as one of the greats of Irish rugby.

He last represented his country in 1954, becoming the first Munster man to captain Ireland that year, succeeding Jack Kyle against England, Scotland and Wales. On retirement, he turned his attentions to his other sporting love, golf, and played in the Irish Senior Cup with Cork Golf Club.

His removal takes places on Friday morning to the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook, Dublin for 11am funeral Mass. followed by burial at St Fintan’s Cemetery, Sutton.


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