Munster players informed as recently as Monday that Joey Carbery deal was not certain 1 year ago

Munster players informed as recently as Monday that Joey Carbery deal was not certain

Joe Schmidt may not have been far off when he told the press, on Thursday, that the 22-year-old's move to Munster was 'new news to me'.

An image still stands out from the mixed zone at the San Mames stadium, just over 90 minutes after Leinster had won the Champions Cup.

Rhys Ruddock, Luke McGrath, Jack Conan, Robbie Henshaw and Jack McGrath had all stopped in the mixed zone for a chat with the assembled media. One player was escorted by Leinster communications manager Marcus Ó Buachalla through the press area. Joey Carbery would not be doing interviews.

Jordi Murphy had stopped at three press 'pods' and even gave an interview in Spanish before heading to the team bus. Carbery was being shielded, however. One was off to Ulster next season and the other had been asked, by Joe Schmidt no less, if he had any interest in joining him there.

But that image of Carbery staring straight ahead, medal draped around his neck, as he was flanked by Ó Buachalla gave me pause. Here was a young lad that had just added a European Cup winners' medal to his Grand Slam success with Ireland and the immediate focus was getting him out of the ground and onto a bus.

Carbery did not make it off the bench in Bilbao but he finished the season with a start at fullback [and Ross Byrne in the No.10 jersey] against Munster and a nice, 16-minute cameo in the Guinness PRO14 final against Scarlets.

Following that game, in a less fancy mixed zone, Johnny Sexton came out and, among other things, answered the Carbery questions that Carbery himself had been ushered away from. Stating his hope that his young rival would stick about, Sexton then added:

"I have felt for him with all the speculation. From his point of view and for everyone, the sooner a decision is made the better for everyone involved."

Another Sexton comment, made before that PRO14 final, may well have hit home with Carbery and convinced him the wait and see approach at Leinster would be ultimately forlorn.

"Stuart Lancaster has got me convinced I'm going to play 'til I'm 40 and my wife is going mad," he told Ray D'Arcy.

If Carbery had been harbouring thoughts that Sexton may hang the boots up after the 2019 World Cup, or at the end of that 2019/20 season, that may have caused him to re-consider his options. Sexton wants to play on until the Lions tour to South Africa in 2021 but has more ambitious hopes to motor on beyond that.

Schmidt may have claimed that Carbery's performances were not affected by the speculation of a possible Leinster exit but that is not how it looked to me. He had a poor outing against Connacht - as did most of his Leinster teammates - in a 47-10 loss and he made a bad defensive error for Keith Earls' try in the PRO14 semi-final win over Munster.

His lively cameo in the 40-32 final victory over Scarlets was a relief to see. Here was Carbery backing himself and making those line breaks that littered his first season and a half in pro rugby. It was Fiji at Lansdowne Road all over again.

Credit: RTE

The Kiwi native enjoyed Sunday and Monday basking in Leinster's double triumph with teammates before making moves to secure his playing future.

Tuesday saw him meet with Munster head coach Johann van Graan to discuss a move to the southern province. Getting a run at outhalf was high on the agenda and van Graan's assurances, along with the chance of developing a half-back partnership with Conor Murray, set the move in motion.

He returned home to think about the possible switch and discuss it with his father, Joey Sr., his representatives at Line Up Sports and his girlfriend, Robyn Flanagan. As he noted on Thursday, "My friends live in Leinster, all my friends and my girlfriend are all living in Leinster."

Van Graan learned the good news on Wednesday night but, hopeful as he had been, he had not been certain of securing Carbery's services.

Alerted to the possibility of Carbery heading south, several Munster players had reached out to their coach at the weekend and on Monday, to ask if the rumours were true. Van Graan told them what he could but nothing was guaranteed, they were told. We'll see. We're trying.

The Munster contingent of the current Ireland squad found out Carbery would be their provincial teammate when he reported for training at Carton House on Thursday morning. He then told RTE Radio, who were first up for an interview with him, that he was leaving Leinster.

The news was out and it looked to have taken the IRFU, Munster and Leinster by surprise. Rather than pre-prepared press releases, rugby fans got basic tweets about the move before websites were updated and links sent out.

Some may have felt that Schmidt, who along with IRFU Performance Director David Nucifora had set the wheels in motion, could not be serious when he spoke of not having time to digest the news properly but there is a large kernel of truth there.

"I honestly wasn't sure what he was going to do," said Schmidt. "I thought quite possibly he was going to stay put. I haven't had that much time to think about it."

Van Graan was the first to hear of Carbery's decision and the Irish management and players found out next.

Many of the Munster players not involved in the Ireland squad ended up finding out the news like the rest of us, on social media or on the radio.

For the likes of JJ Hanrahan, Ian Keatley or Tyler Bleyendaal, who has struggled with neck issues in recent years, their feelings must be understandably mixed. Carbery is switching provinces as he has been told he will get a fair crack at the 10 jersey. The current outhalves will welcome the addition of real quality to the squad but there is surely some trepidation there.

There is a possibility that one of those three players could move on - Connacht and Ulster could both do with a decent outhalf in the squads - but Munster may hold on to what they have. Bleyendaal's injury issues are a worry and Hanrahan may be convinced that his future could lie at fullback now that Simon Zebo has moved on.

One can see why Munster did not want to go trumpeting the Carbery news around earlier this week but finding out a new outhalf was arriving while flicking through Twitter, or getting a message from a mate about the move, is hardly ideal.

The deed is done, though, and it is time for Carbery to show us all what he is made of.

It won't be easy but neither was facing the All Blacks at Soldier Field on his Test debut.