Bowe ready to fight for Ulster place after injury 'disaster'
Tommy Bowe has spent far too much of his recent life indulging his passion for fashion footwear rather than sporting football boots.
A catalogue of catastrophe has attended his battered body in recent years - from hip to hamstring and a lengthy battle of wounded knee - such that he has missed three of the last four Six Nations championship.
The 32-year-old has gone from ubiquity to invisibility; on the field at least. He briefly shone last season but, before his World Cup was crumpled by the beginning of his knee problems against Argentina, he had already been dropped once by Joe Schmidt.
Now, parading himself in the fullest of kit and caboodle, the Emyvale flyer declares himself fitter than ever, backed by a sturdy pre-season and raring to find a berth in what is surely the most purring back-line of all in the Pro12 (and the most consistently under-performing).
"I feel good, feel great, I'm fit," declares Bowe, whose return from that World Cup injury lasted barely minutes in April when he suffered another setback.
"My knee has been a disaster for about a year now. I did get back for that game but then found bone bruising on my knee. It seems so innocuous. Bone bruising? But it is so hard to do much work with it.
"But I had a great pre-season, I built up my quads and my calf to new levels whereby I could take the pressure off my knee. And it feels like it is a new knee again, it feels back to normal. I am putting the final nuts and bolts on and ready to rock."
After going back to basics, Bowe could not be blamed for targeting a third successive Lions tour, but he appreciates he has his work cut out trying to retain his provincial berth following the signing of Kiwi sensation Charles Piutau.
"The Lions year makes it exciting," he concedes. "The last two tours were probably the most stand-out moments any player can have in his career.
"I have missed a lot of international rugby in the last few seasons. I feel now I took a step back to be ready for this year. I missed the end of what could have been a really exciting finish for us knowing that I needed to get myself in the right shape for this season.
"And now it is all about getting into this Ulster back-line which, given that it has been strengthened yet again, will be difficult enough.
"If I can get back to playing at the level I know that I can, who knows what can happen?"
Meanwhile, Ulster may ask the IRFU for permission to sign a tighthead prop after director of rugby Les Kiss confirmed his side have only one fit player in the position.