Rugby World CupPlayer Reaction

‘I feel like I’m only scratching the surface’ - Joe McCarthy on his impressive Rugby World Cup bow

Young Irish lock capped a typical all-action display with a try in the opening victory over Romania

On a day notable for one player becoming Ireland’s oldest ever international, the youngest member of the Irish squad played in what should be the first of many World Cup matches and scored what should the first of many Test tries.

Twice held up over the line in the play before he romped over and finished with a flourish, Joe McCarthy had looked certain to score until denied at the corner flag by Marius Simionescu’s tackle, which typified Romania’s spirited resistance.

But when they mucked up the ensuing throw and Conor Murray fed McCarthy, he powered through one tackle for the try line to open up in front of him, even having the presence of mind to narrow the angle of the conversion.

“I thought it would come a bit sooner maybe. A few of my mates are slagging me about butchering a few chances,” admitted McCarthy, who thought he’d just about grounded the ball when first held up.


“I thought one of them I maybe touched a bit of grass but no, glad to get one of them at least. It was a good tackle [by Simionescu] but it’s tough when a back smashes you like that,” admitted McCarthy, clearly a little aggrieved with himself for being denied by a smaller, lighter man.

“I felt a bit of relief to be honest. But it was unbelievable. The fans were crazy, the Irish fans are just buzzing when they travel away. It was class, one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever played in.”

Among the 41,147 attendance were McCarthy’s father Joe, his mum Paula, and his brothers Paddy and Andrew.

“It’s class. My family are fantastic. They’ve played a massive part in getting me to where I am and they come to any game, no matter where it is, down the country some place or across the world, they’re always there. They are a huge support to me.”

Although McCarthy plays and seems to conduct himself with the fearlessness of youth, as well as being only 22 it’s worth noting that this was only his 22nd game of senior professional rugby.

“I was very nervous to be honest, the most nervous I’ve felt in a while before a game. Because it’s the World Cup, there are so many more eyes on it, you’re getting more texts.

“It just feels like a big occasion and you kind of want to put your best foot forward. There were a lot of nerves going into it. I think everybody felt that. A bit of nerves is good, it keeps you on your toes.”

No that it necessarily showed in a highly visible display. There were 17 carries, bettered only by Bundee Aki and equalled only by Hugo Keenan, and six tackles, which was second only to Peter O’Mahony in Ireland’s defensive stats.

There was also a muscular turnover at a Romanian maul, a strength that could be all the more valuable against the Springboks. “I do enjoy the maul and things like that. I enjoyed that,” he admitted with a grin.

But as well as being powerful, McCarthy has good skills too, and he had the second highest tally of passes by an Irish forward with eight.

“Yeah, it’s good. Our attack definitely asks a lot of every player, probably more than any other team. No matter if you’re tight five, you have to have class hands, you have to be able to add value in the tackle.

“You’re never out of the game for a phase, you’re always adding value somewhere. You’re challenged no matter what position. You have to have world-class skills.”

With this game under his belt, invariably McCarthy will only improve, both in this tournament and over his career. So when asked if he felt he was close to reaching his ceiling, more so in a critical way than arrogantly, McCarthy said: “I feel like I’m only scratching the surface.

“I feel like I’ve got so much to improve as a player. I feel like every time I come into camp I’m learning from Paul O’Connell and all the world-class players we have and getting better every week. I have miles, miles left.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times