Of all the people who get to play professionally, it is the undoubted ambition of every one of them to play in the cup final at Wembley, but very few of them ever manage to do so, and even fewer get to repeat the experience, let alone lead out their team there on a third visit.
Yet all of these are the experiences of Tyrone McCarthy, our second row forward, who backed up two Challenge Cup Finals with Warrington, by captaining Hull KR in the 2016 against Leeds.
Walking out at Wembley for the first of these occasions, to face Huddersfield, was a very special experience for him.
“I remember going out to warm up, and experiencing the roaring of the crowd as we all did. It all felt so surreal, being watched over by eighty thousand people instead of the usual ten thousand. Then when we came back out for the start I was the last one out, and it was like a blast of cold air hitting you with the roar of the crowd. I came on from the bench after fifty-five minutes, and that capped what had been the best week in my life.”
The second occasion, two years later, presented a quite different context.
“That first time it had been down to other people’s misfortunes that I was selected, whereas this time I had earned it in my own right, having played in every round up to the semi-final, and almost every league game of the season.”
Three years on, and with captain, Terry Campese, side-lined with injury, it was Tyke, as vice-captain, who had the ultimate honour of leading out the Robins to face Leeds, in their first visit since overcoming neighbours Hull FC, back in 1980.
“It was a very great honour to lead the team out at Wembley, but in every other way it was a day to forget, and I still don’t think the scoreline was a fair reflection of the game. We just didn’t see that result coming. Nevertheless, although you stand together and win or lose as a team, nothing could take away from me that proudest moment of my career, when I set foot outside the tunnel onto the Wembley turf at the front of my team.”
Unusually for someone who has made it to such a high level in the professional game, it was not until the age of ten that he took up the game with local side Woolston Rovers, and this despite having a brother, Liam, five years his senior who had played there for a number of seasons.
In truth, it was probably down to an element of sibling rivalry that Tyke avoided following in his brother’s extremely talented footsteps, by turning to football in his early youth, before eventually succumbing to the lore of rugby league.
“I ended up playing in an older age group from the very start – because I turned up on the wrong night – and stayed with them for my first couple of seasons, because that particular group were in need of an extra couple of players.
“I started off on the wing and then moved to hooker for quite a while, because at that time I was small, even for my own age. It certainly helped develop my tackling technique being at a height convenient for wrapping myself around opponents’ legs.”
By the age of thirteen, and back at long last with his own age-group, he developed into a half back before eventually moving back into the scrum as a ball playing loose forward or second rower, whilst playing in the Warrington academy.
“I enjoy the second row because there is a bit more room to run there, but I know I can still do a good job at loose forward.”
With Vinnie Anderson and Ben Westwood firmly ensconced in Warrington’s second row, having that adaptability to fluctuate around was to prove extremely useful upon his promotion to their first team.
His development through the ranks brought with it both promotion and relegation between the premiership and league 1, with their winning their U14 season undefeated, in league 1, whilst, on a personal front, Tyke was invariably the side’s captain, and on a number of occasions won the Player of the Year award.
His joining the Warrington Academy, came via the Warrington Service Area, at the age of sixteen, with whom he operated for two seasons until he took up a place at university, to qualify as a PE teacher.
Within the Academy’s ranks were the likes of Kevin Penny and Ben Harrison among others, and in such a talented side it is unsurprising that they got to the Grand Final on a couple of occasions, even though they were never able to secure a victory in any of them.
His time at university saw his rugby development continue in a different direction with his involvement in both the Irish Students’ International side, and the Great Britain Students’ team, while at the same time continuing to play with the Warrington Reserves.
Upon the acquisition of his degree, he returned to the Halliwell-Jones, to re-join the club full time, making his Super League debut from the bench against Wigan, at the DW Stadium.
“I came on after fifty-three minutes, by which time I had got a stitch as a result of having drunk too much water. Even so it was a dream come true, having always supported Warrington, home and away, from being a child.
“On the opposition’s side that day was Stuart Fielden, and I got a really good hit on him – so good that it was shown in our review. I was really proud of that.
“I had been side-lined through injury for the previous three weeks, and to be suddenly told I was to be facing Wigan at the weekend, when I was only just coming back to fitness, was an almighty shock. My head was all over the place in the build up to it.”
The following week, the Wolves travelled to Wakefield, where Vinnie Anderson went down injured in the first few minutes, so consequently Tyke ended up playing rather more minutes than he had ever imagined he would do.
“I enjoyed it but seemed to spend the whole game making yet one more tackle after another.”
The following week just happened to be the Challenge Cup Final, with Warrington making their first return to Wembley in thirty-five years to take on favourites Huddersfield, and Tyke was left wondering whether he would even be allowed to travel down with those who were playing, but in this respect he was given the nod that he would be doing so, and told to equip himself with a suit, similar to the club suits, in order to look part of the squad.
“It was whilst I was out shopping for my suit that I got the phone call informing me I was in the team. I was filled with sheer delight. John Clarke it was, who had gone down with an injury, and that’s what let me in, having spent the semi-final watching from the stand.”
Most remarkably, he had gone from re-joining the squad at the end of his university course, to gaining a winner’s medal at Wembley, in a mere half a season.
“It would have been a great start to anyone’s career, but I saw it as a reward for all the hard work I’d put in, from Youth, through university, and then with the team. The people who missed out on the day probably deserved it more than I did, particularly taking account of where they were at, in their careers.
“The club made the most of the occasion, and also in winning. Nothing was held back at all, and they got the rewards from it in the end.”
Surprisingly, his career then took something of a dip by his being loaned out to, first Leigh, and then Wakefield, before returning to favour at Warrington just in time for their return to Wembley to face Leeds, which they did with another winning performance.
Despite this, however, the following season saw him out on loan again, this time to Swinton, and then later to Castleford, so that at the end of that 2013 season he left the Wolves to make the first of two sojourns down under when he joined Cairns side, Northern Pride, in the Queensland Cup. Being a squad of part-timers, Tyke had to support this by working for the club as a teacher in local schools.
This proved to be an ideal arrangement and he completely regained his love of the game by helping them to win the league and every other trophy, that year, for which they were eligible. Nevertheless, when the opportunity to return fulltime with Hull KR presented itself, he promptly snapped it up.
With their Wembley Cup Final appearances overshadowing the rest of the season, it was the run-up to that, which he remembers with most fondness.
“Beforehand, I was looking forward to it more than either of the other two finals, as in many respects it replicated my first visit with Warrington, with both of these teams having returned after an identical thirty-five years.”
Far happier memories return when he reflects on the earlier rounds, such as beating Wigan the week after they had posted sixty points against the Rovers, in a league game. Even more pleasing was the semi-final win over, of all people, Warrington.
“I was really up for that one as it was an opportunity to show them just what they had missed out on, though it wasn’t very nice seeing your ex-teammates in tears at the end, having missed out on the final.”
A return down under, this time to the NRL with St George, brought a new challenge for 2016/17, but, although he did play a couple of first team games, his debut being away at Wests Tigers, and his home debut being against Brisbane Broncos, most of his time was spent playing with their reserve side, Illawarra Steelers, with whom he had a highly successful season.
His final move, to join us here at Salford, came partway through the 2017 season, and he says that he has been enjoying it here ever since, although he acknowledges it has proven to be rather more challenging than he had expected.
“I love proving people wrong so I would much rather face any challenge head on, than shying away from it. It certainly isn’t the end of the world, and we have shown ourselves to be strong enough, as a squad, to overcome it all. If you don’t believe in yourself fully, you really shouldn’t be playing, You just need enough fight and willpower, and we’ve got that in abundance in our team.”