By Simon Lewis
Picture: James Crombie
There was a time when Jack Carty would gauge his matchday performances by the reaction he generated on Twitter. Fortunately, for his own mental well-being, the Connacht and Ireland out-half has learned that the best validation can be found internally rather than externally.
Good mental health has never seemed so relevant to us all than in these unprecedented times of social restrictions and government-ordered isolation as a result of the coronavirus.
Professional rugby players have been stood down and agreed to pay deferrals while continuing to train as best they can in their own homes with equipment borrowed from provincial gyms.
Which made Carty’s appearance as a Rugby Players Ireland Tackle Your Feelings ambassador yesterday via video conference from his front room timely.
An animated version of himself appears in a promotional video for the TYF app and website in which Carty tells of his previous susceptibility to the trolling that athletes can be subjected to if performances are not up to the standard expected of them by anonymous cyberbullies.
With help, Carty learned to overcome and ignore the negativity and he is hoping others, not just rugby players, can follow his example.
“That situation that I was speaking about was actually something from earlier on in my career, when I was just starting playing for Connacht and I suppose I looked for validation for my performance externally rather than internally,” he said.
“I remember straight after games, I’d be going straight onto my phone and typing my name on to Twitter and then I’d take that, what people said on that timeline, as whether I had a good or a bad game, and that kind of determined my happiness levels or how I felt for the next three or four days,” he said.
“And look, it was all well and good when you had a good game, but when you had a bad game then, you’d be kinda low for the next couple of days.
“I’ve tried to learn to take the emotion out of how I played. I went and saw Niamh Fitzpatrick, a psychologist who also does sport, and just went through a lot of stuff in terms of my mental well-being and my application to training and ultimately just finding fun in it again because there was a period I wasn’t enjoying rugby whatsoever.
“There were a couple of times when Pat (Lam, former Connacht head coach) took me out of the team. It wasn’t because of performances or anything like that, it was because the stuff online had such an impact on me that he was protecting me as a player.
But I suppose going through that when I was a younger player, I was able to go through the period in Japan (at last autumn’s World Cup) where the social media aspect of it didn’t affect me because I had the tools to manage it this time whereas I wouldn’t have had it before.
It was Carty’s misfortune to start the pivotal pool defeat to hosts Japan in Shizuoka last September when Ireland’s strong start with the Connacht fly-half at the helm was quickly undone by the Brave Blossoms in the upset of the tournament.
A second-half appearance against Russia five days later was the last he has been seen in an Ireland jersey and Carty endured a tough time back in Connacht as he lost the No. 10 shirt to Conor Fitzgerald. Yet he is more resilient now.
“I wouldn’t be going typing my name in on Instagram or Twitter straight away after a game. I kind of just left my phone for a period of time. You are, I suppose, lonely away from family when you are away. So I did use the Tackle Your Feelings app just as a mental check-in.
“I would have done a good bit of journaling every day just in terms of how I felt, and then I spoke to people around me, my parents, my friends. I was rooming with Bundee (Aki) when I was over there and I would have spoken to him and to Robbie (Henshaw). I suppose it was just about being open and however I felt, recognising how I felt and then when I was feeling down I would do something which would put me in a better mood.
“I suppose if that had happened to me five or six years ago, there was a period where I was up and down in terms of consistency and I didn’t think there would be any end to it, I thought it would keep trundling along.
“The fact I went through it before meant that being in that situation after the World Cup, I knew there was going to be an end to it. I knew that if I kept doing what I was doing in terms of improving then I would come out the other end of it and that’s what made it that much easier.
Connacht were very good to me, Friendy (head coach Andy Friend) was very good to me in terms of how he helped me through it. Bad times don’t go on forever, but I was happy to come out the other end of it.
Carty also feels stronger for the time off he was given around New Year.
“It’s been documented that since I got back from the World Cup my form was a bit up and down. When I got that break it was probably exactly what I needed, the last five, six weeks the rugby that I’ve been playing has been up there with whatever I’ve played before.
“So, you take for granted the need to have a mental refresh and that mental refresh that I had at New Year, I went to Thailand with my girlfriend, and when I came back I was way more invigorated.
“The mental detox of everything that went on in the previous couple of months, it had been a long season with lots of ups and downs. It was good to get that break and get back to playing where I was. That was encouraging for me, I was delighted.”
Carty accepted he was trying to “force things” with his game in his attempt to regain form, just as other out-halves were flying, but conversations with new Ireland head coach Andy Farrell have given him hope that despite being omitted from the Six Nations squad, he will be able to redeem himself when the opportunity arises.
“I had a pretty good conversation with Faz, so I’d like to think that between the last conversation we had to now that I’ve taken what he’s said and improved a lot, and hopefully the summer Tour….you wouldn’t see it being played at this moment in time, so when there is an opportunity for selection again, hopefully I’m right up there.
“So yeah, definitely, it’s something that’s fuelling me, to try and get out and play with Ireland again, but I suppose I am under no illusions that there’s a lot of competition there again, so it’s just about playing well week to week and that’s the frustrating thing, no games coming for the next while.
“So when it does come around I’ll be ready to do that.”