Castlehaven teen (19) will start for Ireland U20s against France on Friday
DAVID McCarthy is the exception to the rule – he is the Castlehaven man who plays rugby, not football.
A talented underage footballer who was also involved with Rebel Óg development squads, the Brad, Union Hall native made the decision a few years back to concentrate on the oval ball instead of the round one. It’s paying off.
He will start on the Ireland U20 team that will face France this Friday night in Bordeaux in the U20 Six Nations Championship opener – and it’s another chance for McCarthy to impress.
‘I want to start as many games as I can with Ireland,’ the 19-year-old says.
‘We want to try and win the championship.
‘We have prepared well and we are hopeful leading into it.’
McCarthy – son of Denis and Sheila and older brother to Liam (playing in the Munster Schools’ Junior Cup with Bandon Grammar) and Sarah – is involved with the Munster Sub-Academy and he is working towards earning a place in the Munster Academy for next season. To achieve that, and take another step up the ladder, he knows that he needs to impress.
‘Hopefully I’ll get a contract next year,’ he says.
‘I have to make sure the performances are good with the U20s if I get an opportunity – that’s the pathway.
‘I’m working hard to earn a contract and get into the Academy.’
So far, this season has been another one of steady progress for the second-year University of Limerick student. He’s had a couple of games in the British & Irish Cup as Munster A have progressed to the quarter-finals, he has lined out with Garryowen in the AIL League and he even captained a Munster Development XV in a match against the Ireland U20s in late December, a game where he impressed.
‘It’s been a good season,’ he points out.
‘I have had a few opportunities in the B&I Cup, that’s a step up again from the AIL League so it’s a good experience to get against very good players. Lee Dixon played there for the Bedford Blues, he’s an ex-Northampton player. It’s great to get exposure in those games and hopefully that will improve me.’
McCarthy, involved with the Ireland U19s in the past, also got plenty of exposure last year when he lined out for the Ireland U20s at the U20 World Championships in Georgia last summer, winning his first U20 cap against New Zealand. That was a chastening experience, the All Blacks romping to a 67-3 win – but McCarthy took the positives from it.
‘I have a small bit of exposure at the U20s level already, I went over to the world championships last year but the Six Nations will be another step up this year,’ he says.
‘It was a great experience at the worlds, 11 lads are eligible again to play this year so hopefully that experience will stand to us.
‘The junior All-Blacks were one of the best teams I have ever played against. It would open your eyes to what’s out there. A few of them have transitioned into the All Blacks, like their hooker Asafo Aumua who played against us. To rub shoulders with these guys was an eye opener.’
McCarthy also gets to rub shoulders with one of Ireland’s greatest-ever players, Paul O’Connell, not only in the Munster set-up but also with the Ireland U20s after he took up the position of assistant coach to new head coach Noel McNamara.
‘Paul has very high standards, he coaches us well, has been there and done that so his experience is massive, he’s a great man to learn off,’ says McCarthy, who learned so much about the game at Skibbereen RFC.
He started playing rugby when he was seven, coached by Jack Coombes, Jerry Ryan and Aidan Bushe as he progressed through the ranks.
‘The grassroots is where you learn your trade,’ he says.
‘There is a great set-up in Skibb, the minis are thriving, there are very good coaches in there so it’s all very positive.
‘I played with Skibb until I started college, so just before I was 18.’
By then, Gaelic football had taken a backseat.
‘It was a big decision, alright,’ he admits.
‘The football tradition is so strong in Castlehaven and it means so much to everyone there.
‘Another thing is that you are sacrificing playing with your friends, that was the hardest part, so hopefully it will all pay off.
‘Who knows what the future holds and when I stop playing rugby, then I’d like to go back and play football again.’
Before then, he hopes to have etched out a rugby career, and follow in the footsteps of fellow West Cork men Darren Sweetnam and Fineen Wycherley, who are making an impression further up the ladder.
McCarthy shares a house with two other Skibbereen RFC products, cousins Liam and Gavin Coombes, in Limerick, as well as Diarmuid Barron from Cashel.
Munster rugby has that West Cork flavour at the moment, and so too does the Irish U20 set-up with McCarthy and prop James French, formerly of Bandon Grammar, two local lads ready to shine on the international stage.