It’s says a lot about the power of television, and perhaps also the anonymity created by hurling’s facial guards, that Jason McCarthy is more recognisable around Clare as a member of ‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’ than an inter-county GAA player.
McCarthy, who celebrated his 21st birthday on Saturday, came into the Clare senior squad in Davy Fitzgerald’s final season in 2016, making his debut in the league last year after Gerry O’Connor and Donal Moloney took charge.
But while his championship debut followed last summer in the Munster semi-final win over Limerick, McCarthy finds himself being recognized for participating in the television show with his parents Pat and Patricia and brothers Aidan, who is on this year’s Clare U-21 team with him, and David.
It’s two years ago now. You would always have young lads coming up on the street and you would be wondering, and then you see them smiling and then you just know. They come up to mam and the brothers as well. You could be doing a Cúl camp or something, and they would be over and they would be laughing and they know.
We went all the way to the final. It was a great experience. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Stephen Hunt, the soccer player, was our coach. He is some character. He is awful funny. We were in stitches listening to him. Himself and Davy Fitzgerald used to be egging each other on.
Davy wanted us — he was over Clare seniors when I was involved in his last year — but as soon as Davy said he wanted us Stephen gave him a nudge and said he wanted to get in there. Stephen he was good, we went down to Wexford a couple of times. He has a restaurant below there, and a house. We had a good day out with him. He is some character. We would stay in contact with him the odd time.
His father Pat is from football country in Milltown Malbay, while mum Patricia is from a sporting family in Inagh, having played camogie for Clare.
“My mam would be a serious athlete, doing 50m cycles, marathons, you name it she has it done. Dad, he would be, in his own right he is an athlete. He used to play football when he was younger, but not much now. He would say we got it from him. But mam would say we got it from her,” said McCarthy.
But hurling is his main focus and this evening. He will hope to get a hectic summer off to a glorious start by dethroning Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U-21 champions Limerick in the opening game of the Munster championship.
And with Cusack Park in Ennis set to stage Munster senior hurling championship games this summer for the first time in over two decades, thousands are expected to attend this evening’s mouth-watering clash (5.45pm).
There is going to be some build-up now with the U-21s on Monday. The crowd is going to come out, if the sun is shining at all, the crowd will have saffron and blues flags and they will be going mad. That’s what we really want. And then it will be building up to the senior a couple of weeks later.
With the Bord Gáis Energy U-21 you know all of your eggs are in the one basket. It’s straight knockout. Last year we didn’t do ourselves justice losing by 13 points to Limerick. This year a new bunch of lads in.
We are missing a lot from last year. But this new group they have a lot of experience in underage competitions and stuff they have won themselves. We know it is going to be a huge job to overturn Limerick. But we have every chance of doing it. We have a very talented bunch and we are delighted with how preparations have gone.
It’s McCarthy’s third year on the U-21 squad, with manager John Carmody taking charge of them again this summer, while this is also the third senior championship that the LIT Marketing & Management student is preparing for.
“This is my third in it at senior. I didn’t feature at all the first year, Davy’s last, I was just on the panel. Last year was my first seeing action. I got a couple of runs in the national league and came on against Limerick and against Cork in the Munster final.
“I was young at the time, I am still young, but it is some feeling to come on in Thurles against Limerick and against Cork. Unfortunately, we didn’t win the Munster final but it was still a great experience to get a run out and play against top teams and top players.
“But the first priority this summer is the U-21 and Limerick and hopefully that will go well and get the whole thing off to a great start,” added McCarthy, who will captain Clare this (MON) evening when they bid to dethrone Bord Gáis Energy U-21 champions Limerick in Ennis.