Tommy Bowe has hit the heights in international rugby this season — and puts it down to his background in another sport.
Bowe, who jets off at the weekend to South Africa on the Lions tour, was a promising Gaelic footballer with his club Emyvale as well as the Monaghan minor team before he had to decide which sporting road to follow.
But 25-year-old is the first to admit that Gaelic football was the foundation upon which his rugby skills were built.
“I really enjoyed Gaelic football. I played quite a bit of Gaelic up until I was about 18,” he said.
“I played for my local parish and under age for Monaghan as well. Gaelic football was very much the main game in Monaghan.
“I used to play rugby in the winter and Gaelic in the summer. But I was asked to train with the Monaghan minor team in the winter and that’s when I had to choose between the sports. I am very happy with the decision I made. It was always going to be rugby for me — it was my main love.
“Playing Gaelic has been a massive help to my rugby career. It improved my hand/eye co-ordination and many Gaelic skills are very valuable in rugby.
“Obviously Gaelic football is massive in Ireland but, in rugby, to know you might have the chance to play a sport professionally is a great incentive and provides huge motivation.
“To get paid to play a sport that you love is fantastic. It must be difficult for some of the Gaelic players, combining their sport with a full-time job.”
Bowe has had a tremendous season at international level, playing a key role in Ireland’s first Grand Slam in 61 years, culminating in selection for the Lions.
“I’m really looking forward to going away with the Lions. It was great to get picked.
“It’s been a fantastic season with Ireland. To win the Grand Slam was way beyond our expectations — a dream come true,” said the flying wing, who left Ulster last year to join Welsh kingpins the Ospreys.
“It’s been a disappointing season with the Ospreys on the pitch because they are a club with high ambitions. To finish the season empty handed was a big disappointment.
“But off the pitch everything has gone well and I’ve enjoyed life in Wales.
“It’s a change from playing for Ulster but the various aspects of professional rugby are going to be pretty similar wherever you go.
“It’s more a lifestyle change, living in a new city — Swansea — instead of Belfast. I’ve one more season left on my contract but I’m very happy where I am at the moment.
“There’s a good bunch of fellas at the Ospreys and I’ve settled in well. There was plenty of banter after Ireland beat Wales to win the Grand Slam!” he said.
And Bowe now turns his attention to the Lions tour, with the first game on Saturday week and the first Test on June 20.
“I’ve never played against South Africa at Test level so that’s going to be something very different for me.
“I’m expecting pretty much what you’d expect from any southern hemisphere international team — very hard games.
“I think it will be the hype around the Lions Tests which set them apart from other big games. That will be a real eye opener. The Lions have become almost a tourist attraction wherever they have gone over the years,” he added.
After the Lions tour, achieving back to back Grand Slams is the huge challenge facing Bowe and Ireland.
He said: “We don’t want to stand still and just be content. In a sense we have underachieved over the last few years. In the past we have got ourselves into the position to win Grand Slams and Six Nations but haven’t managed to do it.
“Now that we have done it, the pressure is off in a way. But obviously the pressure will build up ahead of next year’s Six Nations with people perhaps expecting us to win the Grand Slam again.
“But it’s only right that there should be high hopes and a mood of expectancy.”
Here’s hoping that the Lions, and Ireland, produce.