St Paul’s Collegiate School teacher Ryan McCarthy and his sporting journey

St Paul’s Collegiate School teacher Ryan McCarthy and his sporting journey North Otago's Ryan McCarthy dives as he passes the ball off the back of the scrum during the second division NPC semifinal match against Hawke's Bay in 2005. Photo / Photosport

14 September 2022

St Paul’s Collegiate School physical education teacher and former North Otago rugby halfback Ryan McCarthy (Sargood 1993-1997), 43, has travelled New Zealand and the world through his sport.

McCarthy started teaching at Hamilton’s St Paul’s in 2011, coming full circle after attending the school himself from 1993-97.

The likes of All Blacks hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho and former Old Glory DC (USA Major League Rugby) prop Gordon Fullerton have been under McCarthy’s thumb.

"I grew up in Tūrangi and I played rugby league for Year 7 and 8 (first and second form). I did gymnastics competitively and a bit of motocross. I didn't play rugby until I was Year 9," says McCarthy.

"After high school I went to Rotorua and did a Diploma in Forest Management. I had two years over there where I played for Waikite and we had a really good team. We won the Bay of Plenty banner/championship two years in a row and I also played Bay of Plenty Colts."

One of his Colts teammates was heading to the University of Otago and talked McCarthy into joining him.

Here, McCarthy became qualified with a Bachelor of Physical Education and a Graduate Diploma in Teaching.

During his first year in Dunedin, he represented the Zingari Richmond Football Club.

"I went down there initially because I got a trial for the Highlanders Under 23 side, I managed to sneak into that in my first year. That was in January [2001] before university even started, they flew me down.

"Otago back then was just stacked with halfbacks. They had Byron Kelleher, Dave Gibson, and Toby Morland had just finished school at Marlborough. There were three or four New Zealand class halfbacks."

Thinking that he wouldn't get a chance in the Otago National Provincial Championship setup, McCarthy was approached to be a North Otago loan player by coach Glenn Moore, a former Zingari Richmond coach.

"I actually transferred unions after my first year. I still lived in Dunedin but I played my club rugby up there for another three years after that [for Athletic and then Valley], then I could be a local player and we could strengthen our team because you're allowed seven out-of-zone/union players," says McCarthy.

"It was wonderful, I loved it. It was probably the best rugby of my time. We had a really good team culture and played under Moore and Barry Matthews."

The following year the Oamaru-based North Otago side took out the 2002 NPC third division, an experience McCarthy will never forget.

Twenty years on from that victory, the team is due to have a reunion during September that McCarthy is amped to be involved in.

"Getting promoted to the NPC second division was pretty awesome; I loved that rugby because in those days we had Hawke’s Bay, Counties and Manawatū. It was just a really good level, but still enjoyable."

McCarthy represented North Otago on 51 occasions from 2001-2005, scoring 16 tries – only three of those appearances were off the bench.

In his final season, he scored six tries and his performances had him named in the 2005 New Zealand Divisional XV to tour Fiji where he played two games and crossed for a try.

The year 2006 brought a change to the two-division system (NPC and Heartland) and McCarthy transferred back to the Otago union, turning out for the Southern Rugby Football Club.

"I thought I'd just see if I could have a crack at Otago but I was always the last halfback in the 30-man squad and the first one to get dropped."

He struggled to get NPC game time behind Morland and Chris Smylie, managing just two appearances off the bench.

"I made the Highlanders Wider-Training Group for the 2007 Super 14 season, but I knew I was never really going to make the NPC that year either because Sean Romans was coming through too," says McCarthy.

"I'd finished my teaching postgraduate diploma and at end of 2007 I moved to Auckland for work. [I played for Ponsonby] because I knew Brett Williams, he was a loan player for North Otago for two seasons with us in the second division.

"He said 'come play for us, our halfback has gone on their Mormon mission'. So I had two great seasons there, 2008-09."

In both seasons Ponsonby secured the Gallaher Shield, which is awarded to the victor of the Auckland rugby senior premier competition, part of their 2004-11 winning streak.

In 2009, McCarthy captained an Auckland Development side that played against Romania.

"They offered me a chance to go back to Romania and play, if I stayed there for two years I'd be eligible for the 2011 Rugby World Cup team. I went over there for a month but I never really enjoyed it and I was the only Kiwi in my club [Steaua București Rugby].

"I could have played professionally but I would have earned no more than I could have teaching. I hadn't done my two years teacher registration and it was just the wrong time."

McCarthy says the Romanian club never released him so he wasn't able to get back into the Auckland club system.

"I just kind of lost the mojo to pick up the boots again."

He turned his focus back to his teaching career, starting off at Auckland’s Onehunga High School before joining Macleans College.

"In 2011, I got a job down here in Hamilton back at St Paul’s where I went to school, and I just gave up rugby then."

Although his rugby career wasn't conventional, McCarthy enjoyed it nevertheless.

"I made so many friends through it. I love rugby for its comradery and the travelling. It’s a good test of character too, when the going gets tough. Rugby has given me a lot, I'm pretty grateful really," he says.

"I had some pretty epic semifinal battles, against Hawke’s Bay in 2005 we just went down. Beating Counties at Pukekohe for the first time, when we went up to the second division, when the likes of Stephen Donald were still playing for them and Sitiveni [Sivivatu] was on the wing.

"Some little country boys from down south came up and tipped them up, which was a bit of a surprise – they're a couple of highlights."

Remarkably, McCarthy also won club championships in every union that he played in. As well as the championships with Waikite (Bay of Plenty) and Ponsonby (Auckland), he won with the Athletic and Valley clubs (North Otago) and captained his Southern (Otago) side to victory in 2007.

"In hindsight, I wish I trained a wee bit more. I was always physically fit, but I never trained my skills, my kick and pass enough. That’s probably what let me down in the long run. I just took it week by week, year by year. I enjoyed playing and socialising but I never really took it seriously."

But rugby wasn't McCarthy’s only sporting endeavour – in his early 30s when he returned from Romania, and not able to join a club rugby side, he took up a new sport.

"I was at my second school in Auckland, Macleans College. I helped coach the 1st XV, and they had a weightlifting team coached by Rory Barrett, a 1976 Olympian weightlifter.

"I wanted something to do and I'd always liked keeping fit. I started training with the team and realised that I had a bit of mobility."

This led to winning a North Island championship in 2010, a great achievement for someone fresh on the block.

McCarthy competed in weightlifting for two years before moving to St Paul’s.

"I was still weightlifting but I'd moved away from my coach. Then our school employed an S&C [strength and conditioning] coach. He owned a CrossFit gym in South Africa so he suggested giving CrossFit a try," says McCarthy.

"That’s how I started CrossFit in around 2013-14. I had a gymnastics background from when I was younger, a fitness background and weightlifting so that was how I transitioned. I've enjoyed it ever since. I actually qualified for the CrossFit games last year as a master athlete. I placed 12th in the world, which was my long-term goal."

The CrossFit Games is an annual athletic competition where athletes compete in a series of events at the Games, which may be various standard CrossFit workouts consisting of metabolic conditioning exercises, weightlifting, and gymnastics movements, as well as activities from other sports such as swimming and cycling.

In 2019, McCarthy had missed out on attending by two places as they only selected the top 10 masters in each division from around the world. Out of 15,000 starters he placed 12th.

The following year they accepted 20 qualifiers.

"In 2020 I qualified, but it was cancelled because of Covid and then I managed to qualify again last year. It was held at the Alliant Energy Center, Madison, Wisconsin in the [United] States.

"[Going to Wisconsin] is like the pinnacle for me, it’s pretty hard to qualify. Especially because it’s dominated by the Americans, they have such a strength-and-conditioning background. You're competing against a lot of ex-college sportsmen and I was pretty stoked to get there.

"They keep changing the qualification process. This year they've cut it back to 10 and I ended up 20th."

As well as being an athlete himself, McCarthy has given back coaching various rugby teams.

"I coached the St Paul’s 1st XV for a couple of years, from 2013-15, and the last few years we had Samisoni Taukei'aho in our team," he says.

He coached the Onehunga High School Under 15 and Under 15 B sides to Auckland championships, was the assistant coach for the Macleans College 1st XV and has recently been in charge of the St Paul’s development team.

"I've been on two school rugby tours to Argentina, I've been to Romania and Fiji with rugby and obviously been to the States with CrossFit as well as competing in Australia. I suppose I've been to a fair few countries."

From playing sports to coaching them, McCarthy loves meeting people and building connections – something that he has certainly achieved.

(Source: Jesse Wood - Waikato News)