Hull flyer may spell damnation

Dave Hadfield says Carney the quick learner can lead Leeds a dance
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The Independent Online

Brian Carney might not be the most polished or complete winger in the country. By his own admission, Hull's Irishman, who faces Leeds in the Silk Cut Challenge Cup semi-final this afternoon, is still apatriotic shade of green.

He makes mistakes, because every time he sees the ball he is having to learn something new. But - and it is a big but - he might just be the quickest man in the game.

The coach, Shaun McRae, has worked with a few fliers during his times with Canberra, St Helens, Australia, New Zealand and now Hull, and he puts Carney in the bracket with the fastest he has seen. "I don't think there's much between him and Martin Offiah. He's maybe lost half a yard but he's still very quick. Anthony Sullivan and Paul Sterling are very quick, and he's certainly in that category," he says. "For straight-line speed he's as quick as anyone, but he's still learning how to use that pace to beat people, how to manoeuvre his body."

When Carney learns that, everyone had better be on their toes, because his performances so far this season have been eye-catching in the extreme. Although he made only a handful of appearances for Gateshead last year, an injury to Ian Herron allowed him into a starting role on the left wing this year. The result was a hat-trick in the opening Super League match at Halifax and a startling cross-field dash to cut off SteveRenouf in the Cup quarter-final victory over Wigan.

Then there was last Friday against St Helens, for which Carney's mates from Dublin came to Humberside to celebrate St Patrick's Day. "I think they put the mockers on me," he says. "I was involved in about a dozen things in that match and 10 of them I'd like to forget."

Fair enough, there were blemishes, rough edges which are still all too obvious. But there were also two jawdropping demonstrations of quite remarkable rapidity. Paul Newlove is no slouch, but Carney took 10 yards off him in about 30 to catch him on the way to the try-line. He then let him go and could have conceded the try - but that isanother story. And then, too late to make a difference to the result, he showed startling pace and power to go through for a dazzling individual try.

"I think I have put on a bit of pace," he says. "I've taken a bit of weight off. In my first season, I was conscious of needing to bulk up."

At Gateshead, Carney worked with Jonathan Edwards, whose sprinting speed is the basis of his success as a triple jumper, but his pace is not the product of track-work, his sporting background being one of Gaelic football and a flirtation with rugby union. Introduced to league via the pioneering Dublin Blues and the Irish Students side - he has a degree in business and legal studies - Carney immediately had the look of a natural.

Apart from that searing pace, he bristles with anaggression and a competitiveness that gives McRae every confidence that he will learn the other aspects of the game which are still lacking. "I've got to learn to run into gaps," Carney says. "Not to try to wrestle with people all the time."

There is a strong streak of self-criticism that will keep him moving in the right direction. Despite his own eye-catching contribution to the match, he came away from the defeat by St Helens sharing the disappointment in a substandard performance.

"That's what brought it home to me that we're really in a rugby league city. I left the ground as soon as possible, because we were all disgusted with the way we performed. But even after that there were queues and queues of people for semi-final tickets. I thought, 'Jeez, they love it here'."

Love it they certainly do,especially when they have a spectacular winger to set the collective pulse racing. And, early though it might be in his career, there is a sense in which this semi-final represents a last chance.

Virtually all the Australians Carney has learned the game alongside are off-contract at the end of this season. "This is our only chance of playing in a final together," he says. If he continues to develop at his current rate, however, it could be just the beginning for him.