Munster have pulled off what many thought was the impossible by securing the signature of former Rugby League star Brian Carney.

For ‘the faithful’ that will come as no surprise, but to the rest of the mere mortals this will come as quite a coup for the Southern Province.

Born in Cork 1976, Brian Carney is no stranger to Rugby Union having been educated at the famed Munster rugby school, Clongowes Wood College before heading to study at UCD in Dublin. Although UCD is a fantastic rugby university, Brian never played for the college team, rather he was a regular with local club Lansdowne RFC regularly turning out for their second and third teams.

It was while at Lansdowne where Brian Corrigan, a local club stalwart noticed Carneys potential and suggested his union game would improve if he played a spot of Rugby League over the summer months. Without further ado, Carney teamed up with the Dublin Blues Rugby League team where he was an instant success. It soon became apparent that Carneys low centre of gravity, pace and power were perfectly suited to Rugby League and within his first season he was drafted into the Irish Students team for the Four Nations.

His talents had not gone un-noticed, and at the end of the Students Four Nations, Shane Richardson of newly formed Super League team Gateshead Thunder, offered Brian a contract to play in Super League. Brian signed the contract and turned out for Gateshead in the 99 season. In 2001, despite only having 21 Super League appearances under his belt, Brian was signed by one of the biggest Rugby League clubs in the world, Wigan, as a direct replacement to Jason Robinson who was crossing codes to play Rugby Union.

In 2004 Brian became the first Irish man to represent Great Britain since ex St Helens hooker Tom McKinney who won the last of his 11 caps in 1957. Throughout his 5 years at Wigan, Brian won the hearts and respect of the Wigan fans with his try saving tackles and blistering line-breaks, attributes that would take him further a field before coming home to his native Cork.

In 2005 Brian shocked St Helens fans when he announced he would be leaving the club to ply his trade in the Australian National Rugby League. Speaking to Emerald Rugby about the move in 2005, Carney said:

« I finished with Wigan this year after 5 years and I’m off to Newcastle out in Australia. It’s a challenge to play week in week out at the highest level. Don’t get me wrong, Superleague is tremendous, the standard at the top is outstanding but it’s widely agreed that the NRL is consistently that little bit higher, so I want to try myself at that. »

Carney made a massive impact in Australia and became the fans favourite in the NRL. However Brian shocked Rugby League enthusiasts in January 2007, when he announced he would be retiring with immediate effect to return home.

In a statement Carney said:

« I have made this decision with a heavy heart and it has been a difficult decision for me to make. But I dearly want to get home to my family and I couldn’t act like a fraud by taking the club’s money when I knew in my heart I couldn’t see the year out. The boys are a great bunch of lads and I could not do it to them. Continuing on would have been for all the wrong reasons and I have never played the game for money. It has been for the challenge and I know my mind is not up for this new challenge. »

Immediately the rumour mill went into overdrive and if reports are to be believed, several League and Union clubs were in the race to get Carneys name on their books. However he was intent on returning to his native Cork, which meant there was only one real runner in the race.

On Friday 16th of March it was official, Brian Carney, former Rugby League superstar had signed a two year contract with Munster Rugby, just in time to be named in their Heineken Cup squad for the Quarter Finals.

Some years after Carney first converted to Rugby League, the IRFU issued a statement saying they would never lose another player like Brian Carney, and to their credit, they have been right. Brian Carney may have been the catalyst that awakened the IRFU to the wealth of talent that exists under their noses, the road has been long, but they eventually got their man.

Normally when a player signs for a club, particularly coming from Rugby League, I would be reluctant to sing their praises, however I’m going to make a special case for Brian Carney. I’ve been fortunate to meet him on a number of occasions, and have a mighty high opinion of him. Carney is a very loyal person blessed with the Munster work ethic. A no-nonsense character when it comes to his rugby, but get to know him away from the field and he has a superb sense of humour, I cannot help but feel he is a natural fit in a Munster squad and would not be surprised if Carney is included in the Irish Rugby World Cup squad in September, he really is that good. On the wing, the difference between Union and League are minimised, therefore I expect Carney will get into the groove pretty quickly.

As you have probably guessed, I am very excited with the prospect of Brian Carney in a Munster shirt, and I know he will be a fantastic addition to their Heineken Cup squad. Heineken Cup players and supporters take note, Munster have a secret weapon and in the ‘insightful’ words of eh… Robbie Williams. ‘Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough…’

Manus Lappin is the Editor of Emerald Rugby, Ireland’s leading Rugby magazine. For more rugby coverage checkout or pick up a copy of Emerald Rugby at your local newsagent.