This article is part of The42′s Class of 95 series, a week-long examination of professional rugby in Ireland.
JOEY CARBERY WAS in New York last week to take a breather before his career roars back into gear over the next month.
The 21-year-old ducked away with his girlfriend, Robyn, as his time out of the game after ankle surgery in December comes to an end.
With the out-half now back in training, a return for Leinster against Treviso awaits in two weekends’ time and Carbery could yet feature for Ireland in the closing rounds of the Six Nations.
Last week’s visit to the Big Apple was the Athy man’s second time in the US. You probably know all about his other trip to the States – a week in Chicago last November.
This time a year ago, Carbery hadn’t even made his Leinster debut, but those who keep a close eye on the All-Ireland League would have been well aware that one of the most promising talents in the country was showing his quality for Clontarf.
A Pro12 debut came in March, the Ulster Bank League title with ‘Tarf in May, a first Leinster start in September, his Champions Cup debut in October, a win against the All Blacks on his Test bow in November, then further caps against Canada and Australia.
Sitting in New York, Carbery was able to reflect on a remarkable rise, one that meant he was the first player born in 1995 – the year rugby went professional – to play for Ireland.
“It’s sinking in a little bit more now,” says Carbery. “It’s so good to look back on and it gives me a lot of confidence as to what might happen in my career.”
New York also meant anonymity.
Carbery celebrates Ireland’s win over the All Blacks. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Carbery is as modest as they come and laughs shyly when admitting that he has been stopped in the streets of Dublin for selfies and autographs since Ireland’s win over the All Blacks. The slagging from his friends keeps him humble.
As was well flagged before and after the famous clash with the All Blacks, Carbery is a native of New Zealand.
His father, also Joey, is a native of Athy who emigrated to New Zealand at the age of two.
He came back to Ireland to play rugby as a young man, meeting Amanda – also from Athy – and convinced her to move back to New Zealand with him. Joey is one of three offspring, with Ciara and Culann making up the Carbery clann.
Carbery was born in Auckland but the family moved to Dargaville on the North Island when he was two or three: “It was pretty cool growing up and being able to walk to the beach five minutes away.”
His first experience of playing rugby was at the age of five, at least in terms of organised games. But his father, a rugby coach after his playing days ended, and his granddad had introduced him to the oval ball as early as they possibly could.
Such is the way of life in New Zealand, where skills work begins without children even realising it.
“I remember getting my first mouthguard when I was two or three, trying to put it in,” says Carbery. “I’ve always had a rugby ball in my hand.
“We always had a rugby ball, me and my mates. You’d play it before, during and after school – all the time. Every PE session was just rugby, so even the girls would be involved.
“It’s rugby-mad and I think it does help because you always have a rugby ball in your hands. That helps with skills and it’s good fun as well.”
Mils Muliaina and Dan Carter were childhood heroes, and Carbery still has a ball that the former All Blacks fullback signed for him in his youth back in New Zealand.
Carbery is a brand ambassador for Europcar. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
While he grew up dreaming of wearing a black jersey, Carbery’s mother ensured that his Athy roots were also in sight too.
“I’d always be torn between the two,” says Carbery. “I remember going to a few of the Lions games in 2005 and wearing an Irish jersey, so that was cool. I really liked Brian O’Driscoll back in the day, but it was a pity we didn’t see more of him in 2005.
“All through the years, all my mates idolised him as well. Not many people would have known too many Irish players [in New Zealand], but he was one of the world’s biggest stars.”
When Carbery was 11, the family moved back to Ireland and he admits it was “pretty tough” as he took his time to settle. That said, the presence of his mother’s family made the transition easier.
Sport helped too, of course, and though he played a bit of soccer and football, rugby continued to dominate the landscape, particularly with his father coaching him all the way through the grades at Athy RFC.
Involvement with the North Midlands regional set-up from U15s upwards was helpful for Carbery’s development, with Adam Byrne and Peter Dooley passing along that route too.
Carbery played scrum-half, out-half, outside centre and fullback in his youth, although the 10 shirt was his preference. Having played with Athy up to U19s level, Carbery takes some joy in representing the club at the highest level now.
“It definitely makes me proud and I know a lot of the younger people in Athy would know about me and be more inclined to play rugby because of it,” says the Leinster man.
“I think it just gives everyone a bit of confidence that you can play at a high standard, wherever you come from, rather than just going to a big school.”
Carbery in Leinster colours at U18 level in 2013. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
Carbery did also play with his school, Árdscoil na Tríonóide, which was primarily a GAA-playing one. They generally overachieved and very nearly made the Junior Cup in Carbery’s time, which would have been a huge deal.
His first Leinster jersey was earned with Dan van Zyl’s Leinster U18 Clubs, for whom Carbery played alongside current Munster openside flanker Conor Oliver, who he also teamed up with at Blackrock College for his final year of school.
While Carbery loved playing with Árdscoil na Tríonóide and Athy, doing his Leaving Cert. year in Blackrock was important in his development, as he played fullback in a 2014 Leinster Schools Senior Cup winning team that also included Jeremy Loughman, another who had come from Athy and Árdscoil.
“It was more like a professional set-up in Blackrock,” says Carbery. “It fuelled my determination to do better. Training every day and trying to be where you want to be – I loved it.”
Carbery was capped by Leinster at U19 and U20 levels, while he represented the Ireland U18 Clubs and U20 sides, subsequently moving into Leinster’s sub-academy after school for an important year of skills and physical development.
Carbery spent his first year out of school playing for UCD side but opted for a move to Clontarf last season.
The 2016 AIL title was a big moment for the young man, particularly as he grew into the controlling role at out-half, having initially spent time at fullback for ‘Tarf.
“It was a change, actually, being a regular starter in my first real season of senior rugby,” says Carbery.
“Being with the older lads, you have to settle in quickly. Clontarf is such a good club, you’ve got a family feeling to it, so you’re part of something that’s more than just a team.”
Carbery and Clontarf celebrate. Source: Colm O’Neill/INPHO
Leinster began to understand exactly how promising Carbery was and handed him a debut against Glasgow last March, after the out-half had been 24th man on several match days.
After an excellent pre-season with Leinster last summer, during which the visiting Graham Henry underlined Carbery’s ability, he has not looked back.
Watching the out-half play is a delight, with his creativity, rapid footwork, passing game and decision-making all standing out. Though some players find the step up into professional rugby to be difficult, Carbery has taken everything in his stride.
“It is harder, but you’ve also got better players around you, so they make your job – especially as a 10 – easier,” explains Carbery.
“You have a nine who consistently puts the ball on a plate for you and a forward pack who gets you the ball and players outside you who are able to read and see space.
“I remember I did a kick against New Zealand into the corner and I didn’t even see it. Simon Zebo told me, he was outside me and said, ‘Space, left corner.’ So before I had even seen the space, I knew where I was going to kick it.
“Having players who are smart and able to see the game, read the game, really helps me as a 10.”
Carbery mentions the likes of Rob Kearney, Zane Kirchner and Johnny Sexton as having had positive influences on him in the Leinster environment, while Ian Madigan was a kicking partner for much of last season.
Carbery is hungry for more Ireland caps. Source: James Crombie/INPHO
Having played with Tim Schmidt at underage levels with Leinster – Carbery kept Schmidt on the bench when still playing scrum-half with the U19s – he knew Ireland head coach Joe before linking up with the senior Ireland squad.
He embraces the high expectations set by Schmidt in national team camp and has some hope of being back out at Carton House before the end of the current Six Nations.
Carbery is a pretty chilled out guy by his own admission, but he understands that after a meteoric rise, he must now work harder than ever to achieve his goals.
“Coming out of school, I sat down and said, if everything goes well, I wanted to be an international rugby player with some sort of Lions [honours] as well,” says Carbery.
“I didn’t really know how to get there or when it was going to happen, so that’s the end goal.”
Joey Carbery is a brand ambassador for Europcar, who provide a range of car and van mobility solutions to both commercial and domestic customers, either on a long or short-term basis, through an expanding nationwide network of branches. The proposition is simple. You only pay for what you need when you need it, there is no contract, maintenance or depreciation charges, which makes sense for an increasing number of businesses and consumers.
– This article was updated at 15.30 on 31 January to correct an error that had stated that Joey Carbery’s father, also Joey, is a New Zealand native. He was, in fact, born in Athy before emigrating to New Zealand in his youth.
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