'It was a special feeling'
Downey urges Reds to back up Quins display in derby
Published 10/04/2013 | 05:00
IT is difficult to understand the emotions James Downey must have felt at finally being a part of one of Munster's 'European moments.'
For that's surely how it will be remembered in time – another memorable high in the catalogue of magical occasions in Munster's storied history.
It is an experience that will resonate with those who had been privileged to enjoy such occasions for many years.
When last Munster 'ambushed' English opposition, Downey was resurrecting his career in Italy with Calvisano.
It was 2006 and he, like the rest of the European rugby fraternity, watched in wonder as Premiership giants Leicester Tigers were dismantled by the twin totems that are Paul O'Connell and Ronan O'Gara at their Welford Road citadel.
A few months on from that day Downey joined Northampton Saints, his vigour renewed.
During his five years at Franklin's Gardens, he created his own European legacy when Northampton won the 2009 Challenge Cup. That success afforded them their place in the following season's Heineken Cup, when he got to experience the Munster phenomenon up close and personal.
Northampton and Munster played three times in the 2009-10 competition. The games weren't all that memorable.
He also played in the two pool games against Munster last season, scoring a try in the 23-21 loss in Thomond Park, when O'Gara dropped that goal to win it.
So, Downey has watched on from the other side of some tremendous European moments in Munster's past.
On Sunday, he got to experience what all the fuss was about. If anyone asks him where he was on the day Munster defied their critics and reached an unlikely Heineken Cup semi-final with a performance that ranks up with the very best, he can say he was part of it.
In truth he will be able to claim that he was an integral part of that victory. When he halved Mike Brown with a tackle midway through the second half, it was one of the major turning points in the match.
It brought Harlequins' momentum to an immediate stop and wrested the impetus back in Munster's favour.
"Yeah, it was a great game to be involved it," said Downey. "Rog said it and Paulie said it, that's the way Munster are, that's the way Munster play, that's the Munster game and it was great to be part of it.
"When you are walking around after the game and see so many Munster fans, you just wonder at how they got all the tickets!
"That's what makes these days. You walk around and see in their faces what it means to them. You know they've spent money to support you, have begged, borrowed and stolen to get tickets, and there is a pressure to produce for them. When you do ... it's a special feeling."
What was especially noteworthy about Downey's performance was the influence he had on the game. For the first time this season Munster deployed him in a manner that maximised his 6' 4," 16.5-stone frame.
"It is the kind of game I like, it suited my sort of style," he acknowledged. "There is a time and a place for it, it is a fine balance and it has to be moved around as well.
"I wanted the ball and maybe demanded it a bit more off Rog than I normally would, I just wanted to get into the game. It went well and I got my hands on the ball early, I wanted to do that.
"I made some tackles as well. That's a big part of my game and I'm glad it paid off."
The mood at Munster's training camp in Limerick yesterday was all sweetness and light. The players trained with smiles on their faces, there were jokes aplenty between them and the atmosphere was not gloomy like it had been last week.
"We came in last week and heads were down. We had to get it together and we managed to do that very well," said Downey. "Our backs were against the wall because of the Glasgow result and performance and we needed something to happen.
"That we were playing an English team obviously helped things. We got over there (London) and spoke about how it was up to us to do something.
"We knew there was a lot of doubt being expressed about our play, but we knew what we had been doing and we trusted in it.
"That performance has been a long time coming, but we knew it was there, all the players did. It is just about backing it up now, we have to back it up this week."
The search for consistency in performance will be to the forefront this weekend. That Munster face Leinster in their final home game of the season will help no end in that endeavour, according to Downey.
"We need a couple of convincing back-to-back performances and that's what we'll be looking for this week. And no better game than Leinster to be honest," he said.
"We still have a chance of making the Pro12 play-offs. It's a long shot, but the chance is there and we haven't beaten them in a while.
"It's time we put that right, especially at home."