'Hearing roar of the crowd was a proud moment': Duncan Casey
Late bloomer loving limelight after biding his time on fringes
For someone to move from not having played a game of club rugby to being a Heineken Cup starter within five years is an incredible feat -- but when Duncan Casey's opportunity to shine at Munster arrived, he was as surprised as anyone.
Those unfamiliar with the depth of the Munster squad were sent trawling through the province's website once Mike Sherry picked up a knee injury in early December.
Suddenly Casey was second in line for the hooker's shirt, and he made his first senior appearance in the Heineken Cup against Perpignan the following week at Thomond Park. It has been a rapid ascent for the Corkman.
"I really only started playing rugby when I went to secondary school in Glenstal Abbey," says the Shannon clubman. "That was my first connection with Limerick -- to be honest, I had no time for the place until I went there.
"Going back, my father and my uncles all went to Christians in Cork and played with Con over the years. The Casey name is well known in Con, but I never had any involvement with them at any stage.
"As it turned out, I didn't play a game of club rugby until after the Senior Cup in sixth year in school. I ended up signing with Clanwilliam and playing a few games with them before the end of that season, which was very enjoyable.
"That was my first time wearing a club jersey so I was a late starter in that regard. But I'm a proud Shannon man now. I'm with the club five years, it's a really enjoyable place to play your rugby, so I'm delighted to be involved."
Casey's first Munster appearance was followed by his first start in the Pro12 against Scarlets two weeks later at Musgrave Park. The nerves consumed him on day one in Thomond Park, so he expected a smoother ride second time round. He wasn't that lucky.
"After I made my debut against Perpignan, I thought the initial nerves would have been over with," he says.
"When you are on the bench in a game like that and you are uncapped you have an idea that when you're well ahead or there is an injury, you'll get your chance.
"When I saw the fourth try I knew I'd be getting on, but to hear the roar from the crowd was a great feeling. It was a really proud moment for me and it's something I'll hold onto for as long as I am playing.
"But the build-up to the Scarlets game was quite nerve-racking. I never considered myself as someone who suffers from nerves, but I don't think I have ever been as bad before a game.
"I'm not prone to getting sick before games, but I felt sorry for the lads around me. I puked a couple of times before the match in the bin, but once I got on to the pitch and got the first couple of minutes over and done with, it was just like any other game. The six to eight hours before kick-off were torturous."
After finally getting his break because of injury and illness to Damien Varley, perhaps it was fate that would present another hooker a game that day. Thirty minutes into Casey's hometown debut, Niall Scannell had to be called upon after a clash of heads ended his afternoon.
"The incident looked pretty innocuous, but I took a bang to the head, got a bit spaced and was a little concussed. I wasn't 100pc so I had to stay off," Casey recalls.
"It was a pity to come off so quickly into my first start, but I had a busy 30 minutes and was happy enough in that regard."
This Casey's fourth camapaign in and around the Munster squad, and with a development contract in his possession for this season, he is keen to impress at every opportunity.
"Having watched from the fringes for so long it was nice to get in on the act. Mike will be back rehabbing around May I think and it is not going to be easy to hold on to a spot in the match-day 23 when he returns," he concedes.
"But, still, I'd like to think that I'll be able to give myself every opportunity to do so. I'll do everything that's asked of me and try to make as much of an impact as possible over the next few months.
"Yeah, it was unplanned the way I got into the team. I had expected to be involved with the B&I Cup side for these games. But when your time does arrive you have to be on your toes.
"I was lucky how things went, but being around for so long and knowing the faces and being pally with the lads certainly helped me settle. If I was a couple of years younger and thrust into the situation, it would have been more difficult.
"But it's your friends and you'll know them for the rest of your life. That made it easier. I was looking forward to playing for the seniors for the first time, and it didn't disappoint."
Casey is likely to be on the bench this weekend as Munster go in search for a bonus-point win over Edinburgh that might earn them a home Heineken quarter-final.
The memories of trips to Kingsholm and Perpignan will fuel his desire for some time on the field.
"It would be great to be able to pick up another win in the Heineken Cup. I'm not sure if we'll be able to get a home quarter-final -- it would make things a lot easier for us playing in familiar territory," he says.
"The atmosphere was incredible in France against Perpignan, but it was unreal in Kingsholm last weekend too. Just looking around in the warm-up, the volume was incredible, and that buzz really gets you through big games.
"We did pick up a great result away from home against Harlequins last year, but I think everyone would prefer to play in Thomond Park for a quarter-final tie.
"We'll just look on it as any other game, but it would be nice to gain a bit of revenge on Edinburgh for what happened in Murrayfield."