Leinster scrum-half Nick McCarthy has spoken publicly about his sexuality for the first time, the 27-year-old saying he contemplated retiring from rugby before coming out as gay.
In an interview on the Leinster Rugby website, McCarthy detailed how he came out to his team-mates in January having discussed the subject with coaches Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster in November.
The scrum-half spoke of his apprehension prior to coming out to his team-mates but said his experience afterwards had been "entirely positive", hailing his coaches and teammates for their support.
"I came out to my team-mates in January and I was obviously pretty nervous about doing so," said McCarthy.
"But I'm really happy that I did it. I struggled with coming out for a while and it was starting to impact on me and my happiness so it was the right decision.
"It affected me so much that I agonised over my future and contemplated walking away from rugby altogether because I just didn’t think I could come out while playing rugby.
"But, I spoke to Leo (Cullen) and Stuart (Lancaster) last November and the support that I got from them straight away was unbelievable. They helped and guided me over the months that followed so that I felt more comfortable to come out to the group.
"When I suppose because it’s not really 'a thing’. It’s not common for a male athlete to come out in sport, never mind professional rugby, and it’s probably something that I didn’t want to believe or accept myself either.
"I needed to accept being gay myself before I could address it with others. I have great friends in rugby but I didn't know how they would take it.
"My experience, since coming out though has been entirely positive. I have realised that anyone who cares about you, just wants you to be happy. I'm lucky to have grown up in a loving environment. My parents, my sister, grandparents and wider family, are totally accepting of me and I’m very thankful for their support.
"I only made a quick announcement (to his teammates). But I just remember the room erupting! They were all delighted for me and it was immediately a weight off my shoulders.
"I felt they understood my situation. It's hard to perform at your best when you are carrying something, anything, and that’s the same for all the lads. For me it was my sexuality, for others it could be stuff at home, or studies or whatever."
McCarthy revealed that the impact of seeing other professional sportsmen come out had encouraged him to make the announcement publicly, citing also the example of Leinster lock Jack Dunne, who previously came out as bisexual.
"I'm a private person so I was unsure about coming out publicly.
"But looking at Carl Nassib (American Football player) or Josh Cavallo (Australian soccer player) coming out and Jack Dunne here in Leinster and how he spoke publicly last year about his bisexuality, has helped me a lot. I’ve had good conversations with each of them and they’ve been hugely encouraging.
"In turn, I feel if I can now help others come out in professional sport or in their everyday lives and make being gay more normal and not a thing to be worried about, then that is a positive. I’m so much happier than I was a few months ago and I’m optimistic for the future."
In a statement released by Leinster Rugby this afternoon, head coach Leo Cullen and club captain Johnny Sexton hailed McCarthy as a role model after the announcement.
"Nick told us a while ago and the main thing when I talked to him first, was that it was great that he was able to talk openly to us.
"Nick is a brilliant individual and we are supportive of him. That's the most important bit for me.
"To be at your best you need to make sure you are working hard but also it’s about being yourself and it’s important you’re not battling against being yourself. So doing what’s in your heart, I guess, so we are pleased that Nick has been able to come out with this news so he can start being more comfortable just being himself."
Cullen also spoke about his belief that McCarthy can now offer hope and that he can be a role model to others.
"Nick has definitely had a battle going on in the back of his mind, and I’m sure there are other young people going through something similar.
"He will be an amazing role model to people because he’s a great person in the group. He’s very popular in the squad.
"We just want what’s best for Nick but he’s going to be an amazing role model, we hope, to lots of young people out there."
Ahead of his departure to New Zealand with Ireland, Leinster Rugby club captain Johnny Sexton also offered his full support to his team-mate.
"I've known Nick since his time in the Academy so to hear him talk to us so openly about his struggles has been tough but we are now just delighted for Nick and that he can be himself.
"We talk about looking after our brothers a lot in here and the last few months has been about that, looking out for Nick. And that will continue.
"By speaking openly about his sexuality, Nick will be a role model for others and we couldn't be prouder of him."