When Stephen Ferris was awarded a cap for Ireland’s ill-fated 2007 World Cup campaign it meant nothing to him.
“I didn’t earn it, so I gave it to my mum,” he says.
His rejection of the ‘honour’ is understandable, for he never played a minute in the 2007 World Cup.
On the plus side, no guilt for Ireland’s abject failure could be attached to the barnstorming Ulster flanker.
Four years on it looked like Ferris might be in for another gutting World Cup experience, with his fitness following yet more knee surgery having made him a major doubt.
But not having played since January 22, on Saturday against France at the Aviva Stadium he finally got a run-out for the last 20 minutes.
That was enough to persuade Ireland coach Declan Kidney to gamble on him being ready for the rigours of the 2011 World Cup.
On Monday, when the party for New Zealand was unveiled, Ferris was one of the 30.
“Thankfully I got game-time before the squad was announced,” Ferris says. “I felt confident on Saturday and thankfully I’ve been given the opportunity to go on my second World Cup.
“I felt great, felt fine. I probably would have liked to have taken a little bit more contact.
“But I felt grand. The knee came through 100% so now I’m just concentrating on this weekend,” he beams.
Ireland host England on Saturday afternoon and with that being their final outing before jetting off for New Zealand on Tuesday it is an important occasion for
Kidney’s men who have lost to Scotland and twice to France this month.
It is particularly important for Ferris who is in urgent need of pitch time.
He had to work long hours in reaching this stage of fitness and that was not easy in itself.
“You wake up some mornings and your knee is absolutely killing you and you’re trying to get back to play in quarter-finals of Heineken Cups and that.
“The lads are going out and enjoying themselves in training and you have to get up and go into the gym and get physio, trying to get it right,” he reflects.
“But all those dark days are put behind me now. You’ve just got to look to the future; that’s what I tend to do with every injury I’ve got. Thankfully I’m on the right road now.”
What made the long haul back to fitness particularly draining was Ferris’s initial belief that he was only going to be out for a short time.
He thought he would be involved in Ireland’s Six Nations Championship. Then, when he missed that, he fixed his sights on Ulster’s Heineken Cup clash against Northampton. Then his target became the Magners League play-off semi-final date with Leinster. Each of those dates came and went.
“I thought I was only going to be out for a week or two. Then it turned into six weeks. Eight weeks. Six months.
“I was always fighting to get fit for (Heineken Cup) quarter-finals and semi-finals of the Magners League.
The World Cup was obviously a big goal, but I thought those two games were achievable,” his voice trails off, leaving a invisible trail of unspoken despair and frustration.
“But I’ve got myself right at the right time,” he resumes, with the smile returning to his face.
“I’ve been taking every training session as it comes for the past eight weeks, building it up.
“A few weeks ago we talked about maybe getting some game time against Connacht, but it progressed really well so Declan decided to pick me against France on the bench.
“I’ve been training with all the other lads and been taking full contact now for three weeks and coming through it really well.
“I feel I probably could have started a game a week or two ago, but Ulster and Ireland have put together a programme for me over the past couple of months that has slowly introduced me to contact to get my confidence back.
“Twenty minutes against France — for the first game back after being out for nearly seven months — was kind of being thrown into the middle of it, but I felt comfortable and didn’t feel out of my depth at all.”
That’s very good news for Ferris and for Ireland, not to mention a mum with no wish to add to her cap collection.