8 Irish players we're trying our hardest not to get too excited about
"I've always felt, from an Irish point of view, that Carbery is the guy."
You tell yourself not to get ahead of yourself with this lad. Don't get carried away. Let him get his minutes in. Give him time.
And then you find yourself, 80 minutes later getting that old, familiar feeling. 160 minutes pass and you are back on board. Making plans for the future. Plotting starting XVs for the big games coming up.
For the last two weekends, just like he did last November before another injury blip, Joey Carbery has sucked is right back in. That hope never fully faded, even when he was out for 13 months, but it was never certain he would be the dynamic, clued-in 10 so many of us craved.
On the latest House of Rugby URC [LISTEN from 5:20 below], Greg O'Shea, Jason Hennessy and Darren Cave discussed the recent performances of Joey Carbery. It also got us thinking about other Irish players that it's hard not to get excited about.
"It's really good to see him back"
"In recent weeks," Greg O'Shea says of Munster's recent wins, "it has come down to the basics.
"Joey Carbery made all his kicks against Exeter, and he was really good. He kicked really well against Ulster, too. Ticking up those three points is massive. And they've been taking their try-scoring opportunities when they come up."
"You mentioned Carbery," noted Darren Cave. "I've always felt, from an Irish point of view, that he is the guy.
"That he is going to be the top guy, up with Johnny. I still have it in my head, that Gloucester performance, from three years ago, and how well Joey Carbery played that day. Going back to that 2019 World Cup, he'd had this shocking [2018/19] season, dealing with injuries. There was nothing like where he should be.
"And I just think that if Ireland are going to go and compete at a World Cup, he's the guy that is going to push Johnny, or step in if Johnny gets injured. From an Irish point of view, and a Munster point of view, it's really good to see him back. I didn't think he did anything spectacular [against Ulster]. He just controlled the game really well."
So, for myself and the likes of O'Shea and Cave, Joey Carbery is a player that sets the pulse racing and the mind wandering when he gets it going.
The list below contains seven other players that do the same. Some are well established, but have had their ups and downs. Others are young players that have shown glimpses of greatness. We are trying to keep a lid on it, but a comeback special or couple of big performances and we're right there with them.
Will Addison (Ulster & Ireland)
The injury Gods have been as cruel and heedless with the utility back. Addison made 10 Ulster appearances and three Ireland Test outings in his first season on the island, having moved over from Sale Sharks. Injuries started cropping up around the 2019 World Cup and he has played just 15 times since then.
Every time he is back and gets a run of games, he makes things happen in attack. Andy Farrell clearly has not quit the guy either as he brought him back in, last summer, for a home win over the USA. He played the first four games of this season before injury struck again.
Josh Wycherley (Munster)
During his first media appearance, last week, after being announced as Munster head coach in-waiting, Graham Rowntree was asked about young talent like Gavin Coombes, Alex Kendellen and Thomas Ahern. "Ah, don't forget about Josh Wycherley," he chided.
Ever since the young loosehead took the fight to Clermont, on his first Champions Cup start, we had his name circled red. Still only 22, most of his outings this season have been as a sub, but we were right back aboard when he started against Exeter at Thomond Park and threw his weight about the place.
Mack Hansen (Connacht & Ireland)
There is something about Mack Hansen, similar to James Lowe in his first couple of seasons, that is unfinished. That is what makes him so fascinating to watch. As good as his start with Connacht was, I never seriously thought he would get into the Six Nations squad. Then he goes starting big games, looking serenely at home and showing straight-up balls with that try against France.
Mack Hansen, ya beauty!!! 🤯 ☘️pic.twitter.com/Xwtq8OLOCe
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) February 12, 2022
He may not be perfect, but I hope he doesn't not have that impetuous and chirp taken out of his game by structures, systems and work-ons.
Ryan Baird (Leinster & Ireland)
Listen, we already had his card marked from his St Michael's and Ireland U20 outings, but when he ran in a hat-trick against a strong Glasgow Warriors side, in December 2020, it was a SIGN ME UP moment.
May yet play back row, but put him alongside a tall, hefty drink of water in the second row and we could be set for the guts of a decade. Paul O'Connell is already a fan, but wants him to add more timber to his frame. Injuries have slowed his progress but, when he gets those legs and arms pumping, it is hard not to get excited about the young Dub.
Ethan McIlroy (Ulster)
Ulster have a ridiculous stack of backline chips, but there's something about McIlroy that has really piqued my interest. Lets say, at this stage, I have no doubts about James Hume and the ceiling for Robert Baloucoune is way, way up there. For for that next crop of Ulster backs, which includes Aaron Sexton, Ben Moxham and Stewart Moore, Ethan McIlroy is the one that has grabbed my attention, early doors.
I was at The RDS, in December 2019 when he made his debut and he carried himself well in what was an absolute try-fest, and an Ulster trolleying. Last season was a stepping stone to what has been a real breakthrough season. He's fearless in the air, and defence and scored two super tries in that heartbreaking loss to Toulouse. Seriously like his style, but telling myself to give it another season mixing it with the best before I start pestering Andy Farrell about him.
Thomas Ahern (Munster)
Has all the parts and pieces. Already starting to put them together and has a knack for making big plays when they're needed. A part of me [the excitable one] already has him notched in for 100+ Test caps.
Jacob Stockdale (Ulster & Ireland)
'THE FUTURE OF IRISH RUGBY IS ALREADY HERE'
So proclaimed Pat McCarry, back in September 2017. Stockdale, then just 21, had two Ireland caps to his name and had scored a try on his Ireland debut. The next 18 months were incredible for the Lisburn lad. His start to Test rugby even surpassed Brian O'Driscoll.
When he scored seven tries to help Ireland win a Grand Slam, in 2018, almost everyone was on-board. When he made Kieran Read when a chip and chase try to beat the All Blacks for the first time ever in Dublin, EVERYONE was on-board.
Over three years on and it has not been plain sailing. It has not been the same since. Maybe that standard that looked so impossible to sustain was just that - impossible to sustain. Injuries have not helped, playing hurt has not helped and neither did a temporary move to fullback. There have been glimpses, but such is the backline talent coming out of Ulster than it could be easy to forget.
Still, we have a lad who is only 26 and holds the best try-scoring strike-rate in Irish rugby history. If others have jumped on another passing star, I'm staying put.
I may never leave.
OTHER YOUNG STARS ON THE 'EXCITABLE' RADAR: Alex Sokora, David McCann, Charlie Tector, John Hodnett, Jack Crowley, Scott Penny, Reuben Crothers, Diarmuid Kilgallen, Alex Kendellen, Nathan Doak, Daniel Okeke, Scott Buckley
WATCH HOUSE OF RUGBY HERE: