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comeback king Joey Carbery: 'Getting back into rugby has been harder than getting over injury'

Ireland fly-half opens up about battle for a return to his best form after long spell on sidelines

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Joey Carbery of Ireland celebrates after their side's victory in the Autumn Nations Series match between Ireland and New Zealand at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Joey Carbery of Ireland celebrates after their side's victory in the Autumn Nations Series match between Ireland and New Zealand at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Ireland's Joey Carbery kicks a penalty during last Saturday's victory over New Zealand at Aviva Stadium. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Ireland's Joey Carbery kicks a penalty during last Saturday's victory over New Zealand at Aviva Stadium. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

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Joey Carbery of Ireland celebrates after their side's victory in the Autumn Nations Series match between Ireland and New Zealand at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Picture the scene. James Lowe makes the try-saving man-and-ball tackle on New Zealand’s Rieko Ioane. Peter O’Mahony wins the turnover. Luke Pearce blows his whistle and awards Ireland the penalty.

Joey Carbery and Conor Murray seek clarification on where the mark is, before the referee lets them know that it’s on the half-way line.

The ball is already in Carbery’s hands and he isn’t going to hand it over, even if his Munster team-mate has a greater kicking range.

The clock is ticking towards the 73rd minute. The All Blacks have just had a try chalked off for a marginal forward pass, but have still managed to cut the gap to three points.

Painful memories of 2013 in this same Aviva Stadium come flooding back. Hearts are pounding, palms are sweating.

But in the middle of all the chaos, Carbery exudes a remarkable sense of calm, as he confidently tells James Ryan, the Ireland captain at the time, that he wants the shot at goal.

All those months spent out injured – the pain, the sacrifices, the countless hours rehabbing, the doubts over whether he’d ever make it back and be in this position again.

This is Carbery’s moment and he’s not about to let it pass him by.

With one sweet thump of his right boot, the ball bisects the posts and creeps over the crossbar.

The cacophonous roar that follows is one of pure elation, but there is also palpable relief, as the majority of the 51,000 or so supporters know how tough the last couple of years have been for Carbery.

Having battled a troublesome ankle, as well as his wandering mind, this is sweet redemption for the 26-year-old.

“It was great for me, great for my confidence,” Carbery reflects a few days on from Ireland’s pulsating win.

“I think getting back into rugby has been a lot harder than getting over the injury, to be honest, because you’re out for so long. If you don’t do something you get a bit rusty, and I’ve felt like it has taken me a while to get back into it.

“You can do as much video as you want and watch training, but until you actually do it and get back out there, it’s a different ball game. That’s been the hardest thing really, getting back into the swing of things.

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“Hopefully I can keep improving and keep getting better, keep building from last week and hopefully do it again this week.

“I think it’s taken a bit longer than I thought. Just realising that you need patience, parking the frustration, getting through it and trying to take each day in getting a bit better and getting a bit closer to where you want to get to.”

Much has been made of Carbery’s form since he returned from almost 14 months out injured back in February.

It was never going to be a case of getting back up to speed immediately, yet he has been surprised by how long it has taken him to get back to his best.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be totally there, I can always improve on something,” Carbery says.

“But getting consistent game-time and getting back into the rhythm of everything, it obviously takes a while.

“I wasn’t too sure how long it would take and I suppose it’s still taking its time.

“Just being patient with that, being out for long, getting back playing games then after the summer break, getting back into it again.

“These things take time. To be honest, I am loving it, loving being injury-free. I will try and improve every day and get better.

“It’s about having that patience. It’s obviously frustrating, but if everyone had patience, the world would be pretty peaceful wouldn’t it? But I think I need to stay patient, keep working on it and get better.”

This Sunday is set to be a big test, with Carbery in line to start against Argentina, who are going to come hard off the line at him all day.

With Johnny Sexton sidelined, it is an ideal time for Carbery to step up and prove he can run the show when the main man is missing.

“I think I always backed myself, and I think I have to always back myself,” the Munster out-half insists.

“I was just thankful that I was able to get out there and show (what I can do), be able to do my job and come out on the right side of it. It was great.

“I definitely think I’m stronger for it (time out of the game). There were a few tough times but I’m delighted to be on the other side of it now. I’m feeling good, feeling fit and I’m just really loving things at the moment.”

It helps that Ireland have a game-plan that is suited to Carbery’s strengths, which is why he is excited to pull the strings this weekend.

“Yeah, it’s great, I love how our backs are capable of stepping up,” he adds.

“You see Garry (Ringrose), James (Lowe), they are well able to step into first receiver if the 10 isn’t there.

“It just makes my job a lot easier. Having that continuity and players around you who understand, it makes a huge difference.”

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