Thanks for the memories: An open letter from us to Tommy Bowe
Ulster and Ireland star Tommy Bowe is to hang his boots up at the end of this season. He has penned a letter to family, friends, fans and team-mates thanking them for all their support throughout his career. However, Jonathan Bradley says it is us, rather than the Monaghan man, who should be saying thanks for the memories. Here's his letter in reply:
I've always been a bit wary of paying too much heed to debates on social media, given that quite literally everything is debated. No matter how outlandish an opinion would seem to everyday run of the mill sorts, someone on Twitter has it. A picture of a black crow, you can guarantee there's someone underneath posting that it is, in fact, white and that you'd have to be an idiot not to see it. Nothing on there has ever been universal.
Or at least it hadn't, not until yesterday.
The tributes to you were hard to miss, really. They popped up with a regularity normally reserved for cats doing funny things or children that have been coached to talk like adults.
Despite that, I went searching for more, almost as an experiment, and spent quite some time scrolling through them.
It seems you're the first thing the internet has ever agreed on.
The news of your retirement prompted a reaction the like of which I'm not sure I can recall. Nobody had a bad word to say and, in this day and age, that really is some feat.
Whether it was team-mates, fans of Ulster, Ireland and the Ospreys, or even just those that love the game, your news was greeted with nothing but warmth.
So, while you wrote yesterday that you were eternally grateful, it was clear that really the pleasure was ours. Second only in the Irish try charts to Brian O'Driscoll, and the leading scorer in PRO14 history, there's been plenty of moments to choose from, but there's one, of course, that will live forever.
Who will ever forget that score? The one without which we'd still be talking about the wait for a second Grand Slam. The dink, the gather, the sprint, the joy.
Personally, working in a bar where Saturdays off were not to be negotiated even with a Grand Slam on the line, I'll never forget gathering before the shift to see it all play out, nor the confused look on our international workers' faces as it suddenly became acceptable, nay encouraged, to greet the end of a sporting event with a nip of something only minutes before clocking in.
Not quite as glamorous as those in Cardiff that day but, like any watching on, whether it was narrated by Ryle Nugent's "Tommy Boooowe", or Jim Neilly's repeated refrain of "Bowe gathers!", I'll never forget where I was the day of that incredible story you played such a part in authoring.
That you enjoyed the celebrations just as much, if not more, than those swarming the streets of the Welsh capital that night, only increased the warmth of feeling.
As we move ever further from the amateur era, the sight of you, surrounded by smirking team-mates intent on leaving you high and dry, gamely battling through a rendition of 'Black Velvet Band' has a nostalgic quality even now.
The personality, as much as the abundance of talent, was why you became one of this province's favourite sons.
Sure, like the man in that favourite karaoke piece of yours, you were 'caused to stray from the land, far away from friends' at a time when Ulster's fortunes were waning, and it was at Ospreys where you became the player of world repute.
A winger, who could play centre to an almost equally high standard, it was from the Liberty Stadium you became a Lion, excelling in South Africa on the first of two tours.
But while those in Swansea will still hold you dear, you'll always be a true Ulsterman, and one that can stand alongside their great wings from any era.
But, as you wrote, time stands still for no man.
Whoever comes next will have considerable shoes to fill.
You've promised to never sing again, and while we find it hard to believe there won't be a chorus or two after hanging up the boots, you've left plenty more memories aside.
What about her eyes? Not so much. What about the tries? We'll always remember them.