Joe Carolan was born in Dublin in 1937. Joe started his career with Home Farm at youth level before moving to Manchester United on 15 February 1956, where he featured in their FA Cup Youth winning team. On 22 November 1958, Carolan made his senior debut against Luton Town.
He broke into the first team nine months after the Munich air disaster. He played 71 times for United between 1958 and 1960 and won two caps for the Republic of Ireland making his debut on the 1 November 1959.
Joe joined Brighton & Hove Albion in December 1960 making 36 appearances before left to join Tonbridge in 1962.