Mike McCarthy has been in impressive form for Connacht
Uncapped Connacht forward Mike McCarthy has been named in a 32-man Ireland squad for the Six Nations championship.
The 29-year-old back-row player, who previously played for Newcastle, is rewarded following consistently good performances in the Magners League.
There is no place in the panel for Tomas O'Leary as he is only named in the Wolfhounds squad while Geordan Murphy misses out with a broken foot.
Jerry Flannery is named in the panel despite suffering from a calf problem.
The Munster hooker has missed his province's recent two Heineken Cup fixtures and it has not yet been confirmed if he will be fit to play a full part in Ireland's campaign.
Luke Fitzgerald and Rory Best return after suffering injuries during the autumn series.
Eoin Reddan and Peter Stringer are named as the scrum-halves although O'Leary could yet be promoted from the Wolfhounds.
Leicester full-back Murphy suffered his injury during his club's Aviva Premiership win against Northampton earlier this month, and it is thought he could struggle to play again this season.
Rob Kearney is also absent through injury, leaving Fitzgerald and Gavin Duffy as the likely options at full-back.
Ireland kick off their Six Nations campaign against Italy in Rome on 5 February.
"As always, the selection of the squad is never an easy one, but certainly the level of competition in each position is probably as great as it has been over the last two years," said Ireland coach Declan Kidney.
"Players have been really pushing their performances for their provinces, so that level of competition can only be good.
"That translates into more competition for each place in the squad, and then for the first selection against Italy, which can only be a good thing coming into the championship.
"As we know from last year and every other time we have faced Italy, they represent a greater threat every year.
"The addition of their teams in the Magners League is building their experience, and I think that will have an even greater influence on their national side for the championship.
"The key for us is to work hard in setting the foundations for the tournament in our first week in camp, and our only focus will be on that opening game against Italy."
Ireland squad: Backs: T Bowe (Ospreys), G D'Arcy (Leinster), G Duffy (Connacht), K Earls (Munster), L Fitzgerald (Leinster), S Horgan (Leinster), R O' Gara (Munster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, captain), E Reddan (Leinster), J Sexton (Leinster), P Stringer (Munster), A Trimble (Ulster), P Wallace (Ulster).
Forwards: R Best (Ulster), T Court (Ulster), S Cronin (Connacht), L Cullen (Leinster), S Ferris (Ulster), J Flannery (Munster), J Hayes (Munster), C Healy (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster), S Jennings (Leinster), D Leamy (Munster), M McCarthy (Connacht), D O'Callaghan (Munster), P O'Connell (Munster), S O'Brien (Leinster), M O'Driscoll (Munster), M Ross (Leinster), R Ruddock (Leinster), D Wallace (Munster).