Why Ireland's Chris Farrell never dared to dream of World Cup spot during unique odyssey
Chris Farrell is not a superstitious man, yet this was a summer when, at various points, he felt an overwhelming urge to knock on wood.
Rugby round up Newsletter
The 26-year-old Fivemiletown man arrived in Japan yesterday as one of Ireland's four centres for the World Cup, yet it wasn't until he got final confirmation he'd made Joe Schmidt's 31-man squad that he was willing to entertain the notion that he'd be spending up to the next two months as part of the touring party at the most exotic tournament in rugby history.
Having impressed in the first warm-up against Italy, it felt as if getting the start against Wales in the Principality Stadium two weeks later was a chance to simply copper-fasten his place. When he didn't have his best game in the win, and Ulster centre Will Addison returned from injury, debate began anew.
Indeed, when the first rumours of the squad began to surface last Monday morning, many had Addison having made the cut at the Munsterman's expense. By that stage though, Farrell's long wait was over having gotten the good news the night before.
"People would be talking about me going to the World Cup before I was going and I would have been like 'I don't want to think about that kind of stuff'," he said.
"It didn't quite go the way I would have liked (against Wales), but after the game I didn't think it had gone.
"You've got to be positive no matter the outcome. I think it would be odd to think it would all come down to that one game.
Please log in or register with belfasttelegraph.co.uk for free access to this article.
"There's a greater picture I think, and the coaches put so much emphasis on training and the detail that we do.
"They watch everything, every training session is a trial, for the last eight to 12 weeks even.
"And for the last two years with Ireland, every training session at Carton House is a trial. I'd like to think that they are smarter than looking at one glimpse of a player out there.
"I didn't have the impact I wanted to have, and I thought it was a good opportunity for me because of the situation."
That didn't stop the mounting nerves throughout the weekend of the squad announcement, Farrell even packing his bags and checking out of his room at the team's Carton House base so as not to tempt fate. "It was a long day that Sunday, because we certainly weren't told of when to expect it time-wise, we just knew it was probably going to come before Monday at some stage," he said.
"It came late in the evening on Sunday. I got out for a walk around Carton House, I stayed there on Saturday night because we didn't get back from Wales until late.
"There was a room available for Sunday, but that was probably tempting fate as well, so I packed my bags swiftly and went to my girlfriend's house in Dublin. So I sat with her watching a movie and from about eight until 10 I was just constantly refreshing the screen, checking the phone constantly, watching the phone, watching the clock, trying to figure out whether it was going to come, or when it might come. So it was a long, long day.
"I have no idea what movie we even watched."
Having banned chat of logistics all summer, when he finally was in a position to put some plans in place, his mum and dad was the first phone call he made.
"My parents straight away," he said.
"They'd been on to me for the last six weeks about whether they should book flights and I'd said no, just hold on just in case.
"So I rang them straight away that evening."
It was only a matter of months after the 2011 World Cup final that Farrell had made his Ulster debut, but his path to this tournament eight years later has been more circuitous than most.
Injuries and an abundance of centres at Kingspan Stadium made a breakthrough at his native province tough, and by 2014 he'd upped sticks and moved to Grenoble to work under former Ireland hooker Bernard Jackman.
His game blossomed in the French Alps and it wasn't long before Schmidt was in contact, a move back to Ireland and Munster sealed in 2017.
"As soon as I went to France I thought the dream of playing for Ireland had gone," admitted the Clogher Valley RFC product, who won a Schools' Cup medal with Campbell College.
"But I learned so much there and it was all down to game time.
"You don't learn unless you are out there playing, being put in situations you are uncomfortable with, learning on the go. That was massive to the making of me. I always consider my time in France the part of my career which made me who I am today, made me the player I am today.
"That's definitely part of what has got me here."
Back in the system, he was soon in the green jersey, winning his first two caps that November against Fiji and Argentina before earning man of the match honours against Wales in the Six Nations later that year.
"To come back and get my first cap, and then get my first game in the Six Nations, every time I sit back and look at those milestones, I reflect on it and think 'I never thought this would happen, I never thought this would happen'," he said.
"It has kept that portfolio of 'never thought it would happen' growing to this point.
"It's been an unbelievable journey. It really makes the decision to come back to Ireland worthwhile.
"Hopefully that continues and I can make more of those.
"I lie in bed at night now and I see myself playing in the World Cup - running out against Scotland or Samoa or running out in the quarter-final, if that is ever to come. Of course we (as players) look ahead. It's hard not to stop your mind looking far ahead. It's just natural to let that go sometimes. I have goals that I see happening. Hopefully I get some of them."
Having started this World Cup cycle all the way out at Stade des Alpes, anything seems possible.
Vodafone Ireland, main sponsor of the Ireland Rugby team, has presented Peter O'Mahony, Chris Farrell, Joey Carbery and Jacob Stockdale with Ireland's Ball ahead of the team's departure to Japan. Regardless of who we are or where we're from, when it comes to Irish rugby, we all belong in the Team Of Us.
To celebrate this, Vodafone created a unique rugby ball with a bespoke grip containing the fingerprints of 32 different people from every county in Ireland. Ireland's Ball will travel to Japan with the team as a symbol of the Team Of Us support for Irish Rugby from fans in Ireland and around the world.