Rory Best: No-one could look me in the eye... that's when I knew I wasn't going to Australia
Rory Best bared his soul last night, admitting that news – by a painful process of deduction – of his omission from the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour of Australia had come as a massive blow.
"It will take a long time to get completely over it," said. Best who won't be on the long haul flight on May 27.
"It's very disappointing, but unfortunately that's sport; you don't always get your own way. Obviously if I was selecting the tour I'd be on it but that's not the way it goes."
Describing how he had learned of his exclusion from the three Tests against the Wallabies on June 22, June 29 and July 6, Best revealed: "There was no advance call.
"Everyone watched in at 11 o'clock and we happened to be training.
"I suppose I just got wind of it by the fact that everyone was avoiding me and no-one was making eye-contact with me.
"As the session went on and we got further past 11 it became more and more obvious that it wasn't happening. Eventually Dan Tuohy just came up, shook my hand and said, 'Commiserations'. That was just it."
Explaining that he had already worked out what was happening Best said: "People don't avoid you when it's good news. It was bitterly disappointing, it really was.
"I left training and went home, spent the afternoon with my family and just tried to not think about it. But at the end of the day it's the pinnacle of anyone's rugby career and you hope and pray you're close.
"You know you're close and you hope you're going to be on that plane and when you're told you're not it's obviously disappointing.
"This sport that I love so much has given me a lot of highs and unfortunately with highs come lows and you just have to take them and try to roll with it as best you can."
Pointing to a shaft of light in the gloom he added: "The good thing with where we are with this Ulster season is that you have to dust yourself down very quickly. We trained today and the slagging nearly started immediately we took to the field.
"You get yourself ready. We have a massive game on Friday night – we have a league to turn round and win now."
Meanwhile, two of Irish rugby's most iconic and inspirational players and characters have spoken out in support of Best following his snub by Warren Gatland.
Leinster talisman and ex-Ireland skipper Brian O'Driscoll, who led the Lions in New Zealand in 2005 and is set to make his fourth tour, and Munster legend Keith Wood – a Lion in 1997 and 2001 and, like Best, a hooker – expressed their surprise at the Ulsterman's exclusion.
O'Driscoll, who has strongly hinted that he will play on for another year under new Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, said: "I thought it was a very tough one for Rory to take; I think he'd been in an awful lot of people's squads. There are always going to be a few surprise exclusions and probably none more so than his.
"I really felt for him, it must have been tough viewing. But when you're talking about 37 players you are going to have some very disappointed high quality players."
Wood was more specific and overtly critical of Gatland's choice of hookers with Best omitted in favour of Wales' Richard Hibbard and English pair Dylan Hartley and Tom Youngs.
"He struggled a bit in the Six Nations with his line-out throwing and lost confidence," Wood admitted, before adding: "If that was the reason for him not being picked, I think it's a bit short-sighted.
"I'm a big Rory Best fan. He is a very good thrower and his skills and ability are permanent.
"I think he has it in his leadership and in his all-round play. He is a really good quality guy and I think all he wants is the Lions – this is the thing that is missing in him.
"There is something vital about him and the way he leads from the front. Ireland suffered a bit this year and I think he has suffered because of the team, not because of himself.
"Being hooker is the loneliest place in the world throwing the ball into a line-out when you don't have confidence," Wood pointed out, highlighting others' failings in that regard.
"Some of Ireland's calling and lifting in the Six Nations wasn't as sharp as it should be, and as the matches were going on you could see his confidence coming down," he said.
"He lost the certainty of where his jumpers were going to be, where his lifters were, where he was going to have to put the ball. You could just see it unravelling a little bit."
But Wood slammed the decision to include Hartley, whose huge problem with self-discipline will be targeted by Australians famed for 'sledging' designed to wind up opponents.
"I would have left out Dylan Hartley," he said.
"I don't know that he has done enough. When Northampton played Ulster in the Heineken Cup this season, Rory Best came out on top on both occasions."