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The curious case of Joey Carbery

By Ian Cameron
Joey Carbery of Munster before the United Rugby Championship Semi-Final match between Leinster and Munster at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo By Seb Daly/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

As raucous scenes of celebration broke out among Munster players and their travelling fans at Aviva Stadium on Saturday, one couldn’t help but ponder what must have been a bittersweet moment for Joey Carbery.


Munster’s long overdue 16-15 defeat of their arch-rivals – which has booked them an unlikely place in the URC Grand Final against the Stormers – will have been a game that Carbery must desperately have wanted to have featured in.

Eyebrows were raised mid-week when news of his omission broke, a call which prompted former Ireland centre Gordan D’Arcy to tweet: “Is Joey Carbery injured?”

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Munster had opted instead for up-and-coming star Jack Crowley at 12 and Ben Healy – who is leaving for URC rivals Edinburgh – at 10. That head coach Graham Rowntree preferred a player leaving the club over Carbery appeared to paint its own story.

Online speculation around a lingering injury proved ill-founded as Carbery was spotted doing shuttle runs at the Aviva Stadium with Munster’s travelling reserves. While a 6-2 split on the bench may have ultimately cost Carbery a spot on the replacements in favour of back row Alex Kendellen, it’s a remarkable fall down the pecking order at the province.

Married during the week, any selection disappointment will have paled in comparison to the joys of such a massive life milestone – but still – no professional sportsman wants to sit on the sidelines as his side hits the heights against their sworn domestic enemies.

His provincial arena selection disappointment has proceeded a similar slide at Test level. He was omitted from Andy Farrell’s Guinness Six Nations team this year, tumbling down the national order.


Carbery’s fall from grace – a player who not very long ago was touted as the heir apparent to Johnny Sexton – has been a perplexing one for many Irish rugby fans.

Having already represented Ireland U20s, Carbery arrived at Leinster in 2016 after a breakout performance in the All-Ireland League final for Clontarf caught the eye of selectors. The then 20-year-old’s performance, playing across from soon-to-be Leinster positional rival Ross Byrne, had tongues wagging across Leinster.

A not-so-rough diamond had been unearthed – a rare victory for the Irish domestic club rugby pathway.

He quickly made his name playing for Leinster, where he showed flashes of brilliance as an attacking flyhalf and a versatile utility back. However, with a Sexton-shaped roadblock ahead of him in the RDS, it was his move to Munster in 2018 that was supposed to take his career to the next level. Often shifted to 15 in blue, a headline-making coffee shop meeting with Joe Schmidt that year appeared to be the tipping point, with the IRFU keen for their burgeoning star to get regular game time at 10 in one of Europe’s top teams.


At Munster, Carbery was handed the keys to the No. 10 jersey and was expected to lead the team’s attack for years to come. He started off well but injuries soon started to take their toll.


He missed a large part of his second season after an ankle injury sustained in a Rugby World Cup warm-up match in 2019 against Italy was followed by a wrist injury.

The second half of the 2019/20 season was supposed to be Carbery’s chance to re-establish himself as one of the best flyhalves in the country. However, fate had other plans. He underwent surgery in early 2020 on his ongoing ankle issue, which ruled him out for the rest of the season. To make matters worse, he suffered a setback in his recovery during the COVID-19 lockdown and was ruled out for a further six months.

The eventual exit of flyhalf rival JJ Hanrahan to the Dragons in 2021 and Carbery’s frequent absences allowed Healy – and latterly Crowley – to establish themselves as Munster’s first-choice flyhalf options. Healy had a breakout season in 2020/21 and was named Munster’s Academy Player of the Year but ultimately declared for Scotland and signed for Edinburgh, seemingly paving the way for Carbery to stake a claim for the famous Munster 10 jersey.

Carbery’s return to fitness in the latter part of this season was supposed to provide Munster with a welcome selection headache but he has struggled to find his form and now seems – on the face of it – to be Munster’s third choice pivot.

While the reasons for Carbery’s loss of form are not entirely clear, it could be that his injuries have taken a toll on his body and he is no longer the same player he was. It could also be that he is simply out of form and needs a run of game time to rediscover his mojo.

Whatever the reason, it’s clear that Carbery’s career is at a crossroads. At 27-years-old, he still has plenty of time to turn things around. However, there’s a school of thought with Crowley ahead of him, that he may need to consider a move away from Munster if he wants to kickstart his career.


Some internet talk in Limerick has him set to leave the province before his contract had expired. While a change of scenery could be just what he needs to rediscover his form and confidence, one imagines the IRFU would surely be reluctant to let him leave the Irish system.

And, for all that, Carbery could still yet play a defining role in Munster’s URC Final in two weeks’ time in Cape Town. A nasty gash to the head of Healy could yet rule him out of contention and hand Carbery the perfect stage to make his case once again.

God knows he’s got a point to prove.





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Diarmuid 399 days ago

Interesting article but it contains some dubious background information on Carbery being an “adopted son of County Carlow”. What source is the author using to substantiate this inaccurate allegation. Born in NZ, Joey Carbery moved to his parents’ hometown of Athy in Co. Kildare. How and why is he an “adopted son of Co Carlow”.

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