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Jim McCarthy – A Rugby Life In Quotes

Jim McCarthy – A Rugby Life In Quotes

The late Jim McCarthy was one of the amateur era’s most colourful characters, his red hair and all-action displays making him stand out in the Irish back row of the 1940s and 1950s. We recall some of his famous quotes, passages about his play and comments from his team-mates and others.


Jim McCarthy marked his first international by displaying the greatest vigour in the loose. His red hair made him all the more prominent when he was in the van of Irish forward movements, and his backing up was a great asset to Ireland. His speed enabled him to be first on the ball over the French try-line to increase Ireland’s lead.’

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Irish Examiner France v Ireland match report, January 1948

‘Jim McCarthy relates the story that when Lord Longford was Minister for Civil Aviation in the British Government, he approached McCarthy in the dressing rooms in Colombes after a hard match with the French.

‘”McCarthy,” said Lord Longford. “I have a bet on about your weight. I bet that you are twelve and a half stone. Am I correct?’”

‘To which a rather weary McCarthy replied: “Did you bet on the first or second half – because in the second half I was much less than twelve and a half stone?!’”

Irish Independent, February 1982

‘Jim McCarthy was the inspiration. Those who followed Ireland in the heyday of the Triple Crowns and International Championships may recall him in future years as the scorer of the try which gave Ireland the second Crown (in 1949), but to the comparatively few who cheered for Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday this will be the game of his career.

‘In donning the green jersey for the 23rd time, it was his first time to captain Ireland and the team was one which might well have been described as bereaved by the loss of (Jack) Kyle.

‘The fact that the English pack were dominated from midway in the first half to ten minutes from the end was due to the example of McCarthy. There are many instances which one could recall of his never-say-die spirit, but the one that best exemplifies it was the solo dribble in the dying minutes of the game which swept play from three yards from the Irish line to the English 25.’

Irish Examiner England v Ireland match report, February 1954


‘At the Dolphin RFC AGM, President Mr. A. Archer said that it was with regret that he announced the retirement from the game of Messrs. MF Lane and JS McCarthy. Both had been outstanding players and very valuable members of the club.

‘Jim McCarthy was something unique in the history of the game and he personally would class him amongst one of the greatest wing forwards every to play the game. The combination of (Jack) Kyle, McCarthy and (Bill) McKay would be long remembered by rugby followers.

‘McCarthy owed his success to his keenness in training and not being ashamed to ask and take advice. His retirement would mark the end of an era, but McCarthy would be available for the training of juniors and minors.’

Irish Examiner, July 1955


JM – ‘Looking back there were some great players on that (1950) Lions team. Scotland’s Graham Budge was a peculiar case. He had come from nowhere to play in the final Scottish trial, in the four matches in the Five Nations, and then went on the Lions tour and then after that was never heard of again.

‘In 1980, I was holidaying in Pebble Beach in America and I went to a local rugby tournament. My eye was caught by a headline which read: ‘Rugby player dies with his boots on’. It reported how the previous year a player had dropped dead playing a match on the same ground. It was Graham. He would have been in his fifties then but was still playing rugby when he grabbed the ball and made a run. He dropped dead on the halfway line.’

‘100 Irish Rugby Greats’ by John Scally

JM – ‘(The Irish 1952 tour to South America) was a total success off the field and a disaster on it. We were the first international team to be beaten by Argentina. When we got there we were told we couldn’t play any rugby because Eva Peron had just died. They sent up down to Santiago, Chile, to teach the cadets how to play. After eight days, they beat us!

‘The players didn’t take the playing side very seriously. Paddy Lawlor went missing for a few days and nobody had a clue where he was. When he returned, a team meeting was hastily called.

‘The team manager solemnly announced that he had been talking to Dublin, which was a big deal in 1952, and then looked around menacingly and said, “I’m deciding whether of not to send some players home.” Paddy stood up straight away and replied, “We’ve been talking among ourselves and and we’re deciding whether or not we should send you home!’”

‘100 Irish Rugby Greats’ by John Scally

JM –Tony (O’Reilly) came down to take up his first job in Cork and joined us for afternoon tea, which led him to stay a few days, which became two years and in the process he became one of the family.

‘When he first came, he would say, ‘your house, Jim, and your children and your wife’, but he quickly changed the ‘yours’ to ‘ours’. I had no problem with ‘our kids’ and ‘our dog’, but when he started saying ‘our’ wife I showed him the door!

‘I knew the first time I saw him that he would be a success in anything he turned his hand to. He had it all and more. Having said that, I don’t envy him. I believe he was never fully exploited on the Irish team. I think he should have been selected at full-back to get the best out of his attacking abilities.’

‘100 Irish Rugby Greats’ by John Scally

JM – ‘Because I was small, I felt I had to score more tries and tackle more often if I wanted to count. The golfer Gary Player once remarked that the most significant factor in his life was that he was small.

‘And, as Sammy Davis put it – if you were small in his trade, you would have to sing better than Sinatra, dance better than Astaire and act better than Olivier.’

Irish Independent, February 1982

JM – Bill McKay nearly failed to get to the ground (in Swansea for Ireland’s 1949 Triple Crown decider against Wales). He was doing one of his medical exams at Queen’s and special arrangements had been made to get him to Swansea on the Saturday morning to join the rest of us.

‘It nearly did not work. He was to do the last few miles by taxi but was badly bottled up in traffic. Terry Davies, the Trinity wing forward, who must have been a sub about twenty one times, was togged out to take McKay’s place, but McKay got out of the taxi and ran the last half-mile, or so, to the ground and just got there in time.’

Irish Independent, February 1982

JM – ‘He (John Daly) was a remarkable character with jet black hair and the whitest of white teeth. I can recall him playing for Con in Cork and a Con winger going over for a try, and nobody taking any notice because Daly was casually doing a triple somersault in the centre of the pitch as the winger scored’.

Irish Independent, February 1982

JM – ‘A tap-back from the lineout was considered the greatest sin, a sign of panic, a burden on the scrum half, with no place for it in the top echelons of the game.

‘Of course in those days the winger threw the ball into the lineout and the spacing was hooker, jumper, prop, jumper, prop. And the three front row men would provide a ‘vee’ and protection for the two-handed jumper. Whatever happened to destroy that part of the game!

‘In my day the lineouts were far more disciplined and orderly than they are now with all this indiscriminate mauling and tugging and slapping back of the ball.’

Irish Independent, November 1991

JM – ‘If the (1991) World Cup did nothing else, it did serve to accentuate the bane of the modern game – the dominance of the penalty goal over the try. We must get the kicker out of the game as the most influential aspect of the match.

‘All the law advantages should be with the running side. That’s what the game should be about. Rugby, of course, is a physical contact sport. Rucks, scrums, mauls, lineouts are an integral part of the game but they should not be so dominant as they are now.’

Irish Independent, November 1991

JM – ‘I would leave the drop goal at three points but reduce the value of the penalty goal to two. Maybe teams would infringe more, but with strong refereeing you could handle it. Five for a try and two for a penalty would be a significant emphasis on the attacking game.’

Sunday Independent, November 2003


‘When McCarthy claimed his expenses for the rail journey from his native Cork to Belfast (for the 1948 Championship decider against Wales), via Dublin, they came back minus the cost of six raw eggs ordered and the phone call to assure his parents he had arrived safely. Instead of £4 10s, they paid him £4 7s. Three shillings may not sound much except that back then it represented roughly one-twentieth of a weekly wage of £3.

‘McCarthy explained: “When I got my expenses cheque back from the IRFU, they sent me a letter which said, ‘McCarthy, we have deducted three shillings for the eggs and the phone call. We would remind you that the Union does not look kindly on such antics.’ I felt a very naughty boy about that.”

‘The players had been told to stick strictly to the table d’hote at Belfast’s long-gone Grand Central Hotel, but their tearaway flanker from Dolphin had to go a la carte for his pre-match diet of raw eggs.

‘”I’d crack each one on the side, they’d go straight in and down,” McCarthy said. “I used to have three or four a day but I’d put it up to six before a match. You persuaded yourself that it was good for you, although the Union were not interested in the medical aspects of it.’”

Daily Mail, March 2009


‘Des, Bill and I played together 14 times (in the back row), which was an extraordinary amount (back then), but we were naturally good together. Des was a wonderful sort of player, very knowledgeable about the game, a general who would roam about the back-line.

‘As a number 8 his primary job was to cover the corner flag. I don’t think that the number eight’s duty now. Bill used to go left all the time and I used to go right all the time. We never played open and blind at all and we didn’t really plan anything, we just kind of knew our job.’

‘Lions of Ireland: A Celebration of Irish Rugby Legends’ by David Walmsley


JM – ‘When I look back, it’s the matches with Munster that stand out for me. Rugby is everything in Munster, especially in Limerick. For me, the person that encapsulated that feeling was the late, great Tom Clifford.

‘I was on the Lions tour with Tom in 1950. Tom was a larger than life figure, especially when he sang his party piece, ‘O’Reilly’s Daughter’. Another typical Munster forward was Starry Crowley, a hooker.

‘We were playing in a ferocious match when Starry ‘made contact’ with a player. He explained his motivation to me afterwards: “I was running across the pitch and I saw a head lying on the ground and I kicked not to maim but to kill.” That kind of commitment is essential if you are to win matches. And no one I knew played with more hunger than Tom Clifford.’

‘Legends of Irish Rugby: Forty Golden Greats’ by John Scally


JM – ‘They couldn’t touch him (Jack). He’d play games and he wouldn’t need his shorts laundered afterwards. Jack was just the best.’

London Independent, March 2009

‘To get the burden (of the Grand Slam) off our shoulders after 61 years is a relaxation, certainly. What a wonderful day it was. We opened the champagne afterwards.

‘We (the ’48 team) were getting bored with ourselves. We were forgetting our own stories! Days like yesterday (in Cardiff) will never be forgotten.

‘I think it’s actually hard to pick out the best player (from the current squad), they all did extremely well. My nerves were shot. My goodness, one minute they had it, the next minute we did. And when the final whistle was blown, we were able to rejoice after 61 years.’

Irish Independent, March 2009


Jack Kyle: ‘I was not a great tackler. If I’d had to play rugby as a forward, I would have never played the game! Our back row of Jim McCarthy, Bill McKay and Des O’Brien was so strong that I didn’t have to bother too much with the normal defensive duties of a fly-half.

‘McCarthy was like greased lightning, and an incredible forager and opportunist. I could virtually leave the out-half to our two flankers. I just stood back and took him if he went on the outside.’

Karl Mullen: ‘Of the 1948 team the wing forwards, Jim McCarthy was the fittest and Bill McKay was the toughest. The whole eight of us would be on the ball before anyone else; the forwards were all runners. McCarthy never stopped running, he was always buzzing around like a fly at a light bulb.’

Dudley Higgins: ‘It was Jim McCarthy and Bill McKay who set the fitness headlines. McCarthy used to get up at 6 o’clock in the morning for a run and McKay was a miler of class and ran for Ireland. We were all inspired by those examples and I remember that I used to train every second day at lunchtime, something unheard of in those days.’

Sean Diffley, Sunday Independent rugby writer: ‘There was one new cap for New Year’s Day (1948) in Paris. He was the redheaded wing forward from Dolphin, Jim McCarthy, who had been knocking on the door but had to wage a fierce battle before overcoming the doubts of the selectors that he was big and strong enough for international football. McCarthy was a mere 12st 1lb.

‘Ireland scored three tries against France that day and McCarthy scored one of them. He completely justified his presence in a pack that had its problems early on but finished much the stronger’.

Cliff Morgan, Wales and Lions out-half: ‘McCarthy wasn’t just born offside – he was prenatal offside!’.

Sir Terry McLean, New Zealand rugby writer: ‘There never was a more delightful young footballer as a man than McCarthy, and I doubt that so many have deliberately infringed the laws as he’.