Full tennis focus sees Portmarnock’s McCarthy land US scholarship

by Stephen Findlater

Portmarnock man Ciaran McCarthy has committed to an exciting tennis scholarship with Holy Cross University in Indiana, completing his rapid transition from a rising star on the Dublin GAA scene. 

While his parents met at Sutton Lawn Tennis Club, his early sporting leanings took him to Naomh Mearnog, taking up football and hurling at the nursery. 

It duly saw him earn a place in the Dublin development academy in his early teens, playing under Jason Sherlock with the county’s Under-16 panel. 

McCarthy embraced that arena, telling the Dublin Gazette: “It was great to be in that environment, getting a flavour of the work ethic and what they value themselves on.  

“The way Jason talks, it was great to get that amazing insight into that type of high performance.” 

But around transition year, tennis went from being usually in the background to become a more central focus as his self-confidence grew. 

“As I began to grow up a bit more, tennis began to overtake. A few managers changed in the club and different relationships don’t stick as well as the other ones and so I kind of gravitated toward tennis a bit more.  

It was a gradual process. I was enjoying the training, the people who were around me; I had a great coach [Rob Turpin, Sutton LTC director of tennis] and that relationship was key; he is like a second father to me now. I felt it was a better fit for me at the time and so I began to take it more seriously.” 

It meant football, first, was put on the backburner and hurling was set to follow in September 2019 in what he had already determined would be his last campaign. 

As it happened, there was no glorious finale as a broken shin in his last match against Clontarf put paid to his and Mearnogs’ championship run. It proved formative in the long run, though. 

“I was out for the bones of five months but it helped me a lot.  For the first few weeks, I was feeling sorry for myself, wondering what to do in my full leg cast.  

“It did give me an opportunity to focus on my studies. And, with Rob and Mark Finnegan, we decided to make a tactical change to my tennis game, changing my forehand grip.  

“I had quite an extreme grip so we made changes over those months and adjust my game altogether. I don’t think I would have had the chance to make that change had I not been injured. 

“It was primarily the way I held the racquet and found it hard to generate a lot of pace. I moved to being more front-on and it has helped me create power. As I get older and stronger, the game will get quicker so I should be able to deal with that. 

“With the pace of development at age 17 or 18 [and volume of events], it would probably never have happened so it was grateful for the opportunity to make myself better.” 

And it has helped him to emerge onto the Irish scene late in the day compared to many of his contemporaries. 

“I certainly wasn’t an amazing junior! It’s only in the last two years I have come through, winning a few doubles tournaments. As soon as I focused on it, I started to rocket up.  

“This year has been my best year – it’s ironically as there has been the least tennis played but I am pretty certain I played the most matches of anyone this summer.  

“Any opportunity, I played anyone who would give me a game. When the tournaments began in the summer, I did well because I was tight on match practice.” 

It produced a run to a final in Malahide while he won the singles and doubles in Sutton’s internal club championships.  

The pick of his results saw him beat the higher ranked David Gardiner in three sets, reaching the third round of the Sutton LTC Open, the event with the highest prize money on offer with fellow prospects like Conor Gannon and Peter Bowtell taking part. 

A number of US colleges had been monitoring his process with South Bend’s Holy Cross – the university at the heart of the film Rudy – seeing off Ave Maria in Florida for his signature.  

Twinned with Notre Dame, the college has access to the bigger university’s elite sports facilities whilst maintaining a more homely vibe. 

And the Portmarnock man was impressed by coach Eric Mahone who introduced him to his team mates prior to signing to give a flavour of what was on offer. 

As such, he is hoping to make a big impact when he heads over next September. 

“The team’s goal is to win a national title which would be amazing! You just can’t limit what you can achieve. Four years is a long time and when I go over, it will fly by.  

“But if I just focus on what I am doing, try to get 1% better every day, who knows what can happen. Whether that’s win a national title, being number one on the team, maybe get noticed by a Division One team or something like that, the options are endless if I get better every day.”

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