"That was the one game that I cried after" - Mike McCarthy
"Sometimes, you more remember the losses than the wins."
For Mike McCarthy, for all his hard graft and strong performances, success came late in his rugby career. There were close calls too, with Leinster and Ireland, and he admits a couple of games still cause some troubled nights.
The London-born lock first made his name, on these shores, as a versatile forward with Connacht. He played the 2003/04 season in Galway and went back to England for three seasons, where he played for a Newcastle team that contained Jonny Wilkinson, Colin Charvis and Toby Flood. When Rob Andrew left the Falcons, McCarthy left soon after and was back with Connacht, where he played 136 times over six seasons.
There had been an offer, in 2007, from then-Leinster coach Michael Cheika, but McCarthy figured he would get more game-time out West. He says:
"This is probably one of the things I wish I was better at, when I was playing. I wish I had more confidence in myself because I should have just said, ‘Oh, back yourself. You’re going to go to Leinster, you’re going to play, you’re going to start’. But I didn’t back myself."
McCarthy, having established himself in the Ireland team in 2012, eventually moved to Leinster in 2013 and won a PRO12 title with his new side by the end of his first season.
As much as he revelled in that achievement, and winning 18 of his 19 Ireland caps on the elder side of 30, McCarthy spoke very well on the two games that still give him pause, even though he has been retired for over three seasons.
On the latest House of Rugby Ireland episode, McCarthy (LISTEN below) spoke with hosts Eimear Considine and Ian Madigan about those two games, for Leinster and Ireland.
"Memories wise," Mike McCarthy reflected, "the best moment was winning the PRO12 back then. I still have a picture of you, Mads, as my screensaver. It’s that picture of us winning the PRO12 against Glasgow – the team picture.
"That, for me, was an amazing memory. Unlike yourself, who has won multiple trophies, I wasn’t in that boat, like you. That was amazing for me, and a big highlight. And also, the fact that I was out for about six weeks before that final with a calf injury. And I just made it back to play in that final, and the family were there. So that’s a big day."
That league victory was somewhat of a salve for being on the brink of Irish sporting history, only for the All Blacks to produce a stunning (heart-breaking for Ireland) comeback at the Aviva Stadium. McCarthy and Madigan reflected on that 24-22 defeat to the world champions:
MCCARTHY: Sometimes, you more remember the losses than the wins. And a couple stick out for me. Two games we both played in again. That game against the All Blacks in 2013, where we were winning on 80 minutes but they kept the ball for four and a half minutes and scored in the corner. I’d never cried after a game, but that was one game I did cry after. Another one I did cry after was (in 2014) that semi-final away to Toulon, when they scored in extra time. That was a game, Mads, that we should have won before extra time, shouldn’t we?
MADIGAN: Two glorious mess-ups that you’ve touched on. A missed tackle by me, in the corner, and an intercept against Toulon. But, sure, look!
MCCARTHY: That wasn’t you mate, that wasn’t you!
MADIGAN: No, no, look. We both know we could have beaten Toulon and that was a real killer that year. You know, we hadn’t gone well in the league and all our eggs were in the European basket. We knew that we could have gone on to beat Toulon and won the final that year. That’s a loss that has stuck with me to this day. There’s times you go, ‘I’d love to have those two or three games back’. Just to have another go at them.
MCCARTHY: Yeah, 100%. And I think no matter what you’ve achieved in the game. Whether you’re a legend like Drico or Paulie, or yourself Mads, you always look back and think, you know… you always want more and think you could have achieved more. Certainly I’ll look back on my career and my family will say to me, ‘Oh, you should be so proud’. I am proud, but I look back and say I could have and should have achieved more, but that’s down to me.
Athletes, and they don't necessarily have to be professionals, will relate to McCarthy's feelings here.
No matter how many games/races/bouts you have won over the years, the ones that got away never truly leave you. That, in essence, is what drives so many of us on, and to distraction.
WATCH THAT EPISODE HERE:
SUBSCRIBE TO HOUSE OF RUGBY IRELAND HERE
Season 3 has returned with Ian Madigan & Eimear Considine as hosts, and has already featured interviews with Brian O'Driscoll, Nigel Owens, Sean Cronin, Shane Williams, Mike Brown, CJ Stander, Ugo Monye, Sene Naoupu, Schalk Burger, Dan Leo, James Lowe, Marcell Coetzee, Ciaran Griffin, Ian Keatley, Darren Cave, Quinn Roux and Mike McCarthy.