Tommy Bowe on target to boost Ulster's final glory push
When Tommy Bowe had the protective cage removed from his right knee last week, the wing admits he was given something of a shock.
Ireland's second most prolific try-scorer of all time is three months removed from suffering posterior cruciate ligament and meniscal damage after just 10 minutes of the World Cup quarter-final loss to Argentina and has found that building the leg back up to strength could be a time-consuming exercise.
"Being in the brace for 10 weeks, and not being able to do anything on it, it's amazing to see how much the muscle just fades away to nothing," he says.
"I couldn't believe it, there's not much left.
"It came off last week and it means I can start to work it again which is great.
"Before then it was all just physio, upper body and single leg weights.
"Now that I'm able to do things with both legs, it's just trying to build my quad and leg back up to the size it was.
"Hopefully it comes back as quickly as it went!"
While the worst is behind him - even if the enforced rest period gave time to focus on his XV Kings clothing range during "the only time of the year men buy themselves clothes" - the 31-year-old remains unsure when he can return to action.
He's confident though that he will feature in both the run-in of Ulster's campaign and Ireland's summer tour to South Africa.
"It's very much play it by ear at the minute unfortunately," he said while on duty with Subway's 'Train with Tommy' campaign.
"I'd love to know exactly when I'll be back running, back playing, but I think with the surgery, we just have to see how it reacts.
"It was a bit of a strange one, typical me I suppose.
"If things are going well we'll motor things on. At the minute you just have to see how nature takes its course. I'm pretty happy with how it's going so far.
"I'm very hopeful I'll be back before the end of the year (season). We don't know when but I like to think so.
"Training, the stuff in the gym, is the hardest part of life as a pro.
"It's going out to play the games that are the fun things.It's very frustrating not to be doing it."
An irritation not helped by his last memories of being on the field.
Having started the World Cup outside of the team, the result of a performance against England in the warm-ups that he readily admits was well below his considerable standards, Bowe had played himself back into form and back into his familiar number 14 jersey.
Two tries at Wembley against Romania provided a memorable moment for the Leeds United fan while the pool-clinching victory over France was a day when everything clicked for Joe Schmidt's men.
The contrast was stark back in the Millennium Stadium a week later against Argentina.
Ireland were about to fall 17-0 behind when Bowe was carted from the field in agony and watching the rest of the 43-20 defeat is not an experience he cares to remember.
"I was disappointed to miss out on the Canada game, of course I was, but I was told I'd get an opportunity and, when you do, you have to take it.
"The French match, and for me personally the Romanian match, to play in front of almost 90,000 Irish people at Wembley and score a couple of tries, was unbelievable.
"Sitting in the medical room with an ice pack on my knee watching Argentina win is a desperately poor memory that I'll be trying to forget for a long old time."
The former Osprey, who similarly was deprived of almost a year's worth of caps after the heartbreaking late defeat to New Zealand in 2013, is naturally envious of those who get to wipe the slate clean in next month's Six Nations opener against Wales.
"Your last game is the one that sticks in your head.
"Unfortunately now that Argentina one is still stuck in my head.
"Most of the other lads have all got out for the provinces and will hopefully be involved in the Six Nations.
"You need these things, to focus on the next challenge and the next game.
"For me unfortunately my next challenge is the rowing machine tomorrow."
With 72 caps to his name, five of which have come for the Lions, Bowe is sure there are many more to come despite his injury struggles.
"To get to the level I was at just before the injury having been dropped is a massive confidence booster for me that I can get back there again.
"The Ulster wingers are going well, and with the Six Nations coming up there's a lot of guys pushing for the two positions there, but whenever I get back fit, I can really push hard and get myself back in the team."
When he does return to the Irish set-up, there will be a new face as his defence coach.
With Les Kiss now in place at Ulster, Schmidt has selected former England assistant Andy Farrell to fill the Aussie's shoes.
The former league star, who it was announced yesterday will first work with Munster on an interim basis for the next four months, is an appointment that excites Bowe.
He said: "I was fortunate enough to work with Andy when he was on tour with the Lions and I was very impressed with him.
"For him to come into the Irish set-up is brilliant.
"The charisma he brings as well is great to have in the camp."