Sheffield United: Paddy Power

Paddy McCarthy played hurling when he was younger � copyright : Blades Sports Photography

Paddy McCarthy played hurling when he was younger � copyright : Blades Sports Photography

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It is one of the fastest sports in the world and, according to many medical experts, also the most dangerous, writes James Shield.

Little wonder that Paddy McCarthy says hurling was responsible for equipping him with the strength of character required to forge a footballing career.

“I played when I was younger,” he told The Star last night. “That was for a team called St Monica’s and I was a midfielder back in the day.

“It gives you a fantastic grounding because it’s so competitive. I’ve heard people say the ball moves at over 100mph.

“But when I went to Manchester City I had to knock it on the head. They said it was too dangerous and so that was part of my contract. There was no way I could stay involved after that.”

McCarthy, who joined Sheffield United on loan from Crystal Palace earlier this month, was still a teenager when he packed away his sliotar and caman after being spotted playing youth football in Ireland by scouts from Maine Road.

Nearly two decades and six clubs later, the 31-year-old is preparing to make his second appearance for Nigel Clough’s side when Leyton Orient visit South Yorkshire tomorrow.

McCarthy’s move north saw him continue a fine Irish tradition at Bramall Lane which has seen the likes of Alf Ringstead, Alan Kelly, Derek Geary and brothers Alan and Stephen Quinn all pull on the famous red and white stripes since Jimmy Dunne arrived from New Brighton in the 1920’s.

“Dublin is a fantastic place to grow up as a young footballer,” McCarthy said. “The DDSL (Dublin District Schoolboys League) is supposedly one of the best in Europe and, if you watched any of it, I think you’d be really surprised by the standard.

“From a very early age, that competitive streak is instilled in you and so I think that’s why so many boys from back home have made it over here.

“I think that’s one advantage that Irish lads and British lads have over the rest of Europe. That willingness to dig-in when things aren’t going your way and being prepared to have a good old scrap.

“I know the Quinns and how well they did here. They fit that mould.”

Michael Doyle, McCarthy’s new captain, compatriot and fellow hurling fan is another familiar face from back home.

“Michael’s a Dublin man like me so there’s no inter-county rivalry there. We’ve already swapped a few tales.”

United slipped to 11th in the League One table when they were beaten, in controversial circumstances, by Chesterfield last weekend. Michael Higdon, who had a goal incorrectly disallowed for off-side before being sent-off for a foul on Daniel Jones, is suspended for the meeting with 20th placed Orient while Bob Harris, Harrison McGahey and Chris Basham pressed their claims for starting roles during Tuesday’s JP Trophy success over Hartlepool.

Like McGahey, whose place he took at the Proact Stadium, McGahey has been tasked with helping to improve a defence which has kept only three clean sheets in 14 outings this season. He endured a difficult debut - delivering the pass which Gary Roberts intercepted to score Chesterfield’s second goal en route to a 3-2 victory. But, as Clough conceded afterwards, with injuries and Palace’s Premier League form limiting McCarthy to less than five hours of football since January, a degree of ring-rust was inevitable.

“Hopefully I can bring a bit of experience,” he said. “I’ve been around the block a couple of times, I can help organise and I’ll always give 100 per cent in every training session and game.

“Experience helps you get used to game days and situations within matches. It helps you know what and what not to do.

“I know the lads here have all got the same approach so hopefully I can just help to add a little bit more.”

“There are some big games in this division,” McCarthy continued. “Lots of derbies and other good games too.

“I’m itching to get started and get some regular football. That opportunity hasn’t been there lately because the boys at Palace have been flying and doing so well.”

McCarthy, who worked under Sheffield Wednesday’s first team coach Neil Thompson during a temporary stint at Boston United, left the North-West on a permanent basis after being signed by Leicester City in 2005. A brief spell at Charlton Athletic followed before Palace, where he is contracted for a further 20 months, came calling six years ago.

Positioned in mid-table, United enter tomorrow’s contest only five points behind the automatic promotion positions and McCarthy, who monitored their march into the FA Cup semi-finals last season, is adamant that run illustrates the potential within Clough’s squad.

“I saw how well the boys did here in the cup,” McCarthy said. “They did fantastically well beating some really strong opposition and that builds confidence among the group.

“At Palace, we had a good cup run the year before we got promoted. It gives you a winning mentality and a feel for big games.

“I’m sure everyone would swap a cup run for promotion back to the Championship which is where this club belongs. But why not both?”

*Twitter: @JamesShield1