'It's not easy going from starting to fourth choice'
Wine connoisseur and law student keen to win back No 2 shirt after injury-hit campaign
As he finishes up his final set of law exams at UL, Duncan Casey looks towards a future which could contain anything from a passion for wine to his skilled writing capabilities, but in the meantime it's all about his rugby career and making an impression for Munster next season.
Injury has set him back a long way, and he has fallen from once being a first-choice hooker to being behind Ireland international Niall Scannell, Rhys Marshall and Kevin O'Byrne in the pecking order.
But Casey is confident that he has the wherewithal to fight for his place, and with just over a year left in his contract that fight will kick into over-drive over the summer as he looks to launch into pre-season to give himself the best chance of making the match-day selection more regularly.
"They're my final set of law exams. I just went back and did my final year of college in UL just before Christmas. I had taken a leave of absence to concentrate on rugby," he says.
"I just went back and now I am in my final semester so hopefully I can get over the line now.
"It's not easy. You are working a job as well as trying to study full-time. You have to be cute about your day. Rugby and training takes priority. But you have to be well enough prepared and informed and have good enough relationships with others in your class to overcome that.
"I am undecided what else I will do at the moment. There is a couple of non-academic projects that I am thinking about dedicating my energy and time into.
"I am very interested in wine. I am thinking of focusing a lot of my energy into that. I would definitely like to pursue some post-graduate study at some stage but I am in no hurry."
The 26-year-old Corkonian has played 46 times for Munster and scored five tries since his debut in the 2013-14 season.
But when he was on the comeback trail from injury at the start of this season, he got injured against Glasgow Warriors in October.
That was a massive setback and now he needs to start all over again after the innocuous injury required surgery; a tedious process kicked into gear before Christmas.
"I came on at 60 minutes and I came back off at 65 minutes. It was a short-lived venture into the pitch. I ruptured my medial ligament in my right knee. It's a common enough injury in the game," he recalls.
"They are usually six- to eight-week injuries and they are usually straightforward. But I did a bad job in mine. You usually have a Grade 1 or Grade 2 tear. Mine was fully ruptured so it required surgery. I had a 16-17 week lay-off.
"It passes quickly. It's difficult watching games from the sideline and that's a reminder of how long you've been out. But the rehab process itself was straightforward."
Casey's hard work and endeavour helped him see off the tough days and make it back for Shannon in Ulster Bank League Division 1B.
And despite missing out on any first-team action for Munster, Casey starred for the B&I Cup side who beat Jersey Reds in a thrilling decider at Irish Independent Park.
"The B&I Cup win was huge. People underestimate how positive an impact having a strong A side and having a successful B&I campaign can have on the group and organisation," he says.
"It's easy to ignore it from an outsider's point of view when it's not going well but it's no coincidence the fact that the A team have been so strong this year, correlates with how strong the senior team has been as well.
"When you have a full squad of players that are battling it out for the A side as well… you have guys with significant experience like Mark Chisholm and myself subbing for the A team in the semi-final and final, which wouldn't have happened in years gone by.
"The fact that the B&I Cup side are doing so well, what we are producing on the pitch in matches is reflected in training. The standards are being raised all around, and that's reflected in the way the lads have played all year and the fact that we have already been able to get some silverware in the bag."
Even though they lost their Champions Cup semi-final against Saracens at Aviva Stadium last month, Munster can still win a Guinness Pro12 title this season with a home semi-final to come in that competition.
Casey has done the hard yards with the rehab group now he wants more game-time, and he wants to wear the senior No 2 jersey again.
"If Munster keeps going on this trajectory I don't see any reason why we wouldn't win a European Cup in the next one to two years," he says.
"In analysing the Saracens result. Rassie (Erasmus) and the coaches and players were honest saying that Saracens are further along their journey. But we'll get there.
"I have to go into next season looking to attack pre-season and make as good an impression with the coaches as I can.
"It's not easy having been the starting hooker before, to now being the fourth-choice hooker.
"That's not a decline in my career that I wanted to make.
But this is professional sport. To have gotten two bad injuries back to back worked against me.
"I have another year on my contract to add to the group as best as I can and make an impression on the coaches, with a view to hopefully working my way back into the match-day 23, and the No 2 jersey."