Ferris says criticism of Ireland was over the top
At 30 years of age, Stephen Ferris should be preparing for another visit to the Stade de France this Saturday, but instead he spent yesterday touring Dundalk with the RBS Six Nations trophy and tomorrow he'll be appearing on television as a studio analyst for Ulster's meeting with Glasgow.
Life after rugby began early for the former flanker who is sitting on the other side of the fence before his time.
Not so long ago, he would have addressed headline screaming 'This is the worst Ireland side for 15 years' from within the dressing-room, but now his platform is wider even if he doesn't get to prove the author in question wrong himself.
Ferris has played with many of the men who took the field for Ireland against Wales last Sunday, and does not share Neil Francis's view of their abilities as expressed in last weekend's Sunday Independent.
Indeed, he believes last weekend's performance in the drawn game at the Aviva Stadium was a sign that the doom and gloom surrounding the team was misplaced and reckons that they can still win a third successive title in a row despite failing to win at home on the opening day.
"The press that the lads were getting in the media before the Wales game, some people saying it was the worst Ireland team to take to the pitch in 15 years, it was completely unjustified," he said. "The lads went out there and showed exactly why they're the champions. They had a lot of injuries, they don't have the experience that they had in previous years, but they went out and put in a cracking performance against a really, really good Welsh side.
"Of course they can win it, they're the current champions. They've all the momentum for the last couple of years and every single one of the lads in camp will believe that they can. It all starts this weekend in Paris."
Ferris was part of the team who began the current run of five games unbeaten against France with a draw at the Stade de France in the re-fixed clash in 2012. His first visit was a hammering along traditional lines, but he believes those days are gone.
"We went over and then the pitch froze, so we had to go over again. We were 17-6 up at half-time, but the French came back for a draw," he recalled. "But, that was the start of us saying: 'Hold on a minute, this team are not the same as the one five, six, 10 years ago' and we took a lot of confidence out of that game even though we were bitterly disappointed that we drew it because it felt like a loss.
"Beforehand, I remember Paul O'Connell giving us a lot of confidence going in, we knew we were probably the better team and it's a happy hunting ground for us in recent years. Everyone says, 'You never know with the French', well actually you do know because it's not the same team as it was, where they were very unpredictable. Now, they're pretty predictable, they're not winning games, they're not up to scratch. They're not the same team as Ireland are at the minute and Ireland will go over there with loads of confidence.
"I'm expecting a victory. Not a handsome one, but a six- or seven-point game in Ireland's favour and they should take a lot of confidence out of the unbeaten run of five games in a row."
When he watches his former comrades take to the pitch, he will feel a pang of frustration but is at peace with the cards he's been dealt.
"I do miss it. The changing room before a match, Rory Best leading them out ... in the back of your mind you know you're still good enough to go out there and mix it up with those boys; that's the most frustrating thing," he said. "If my ankle was functioning like the other one, there's no doubt I'd be out there playing. But you have to accept it and move on.
"I think I've done that very well by keeping myself involved in the game by doing some media work and doing some ambassador roles for other things.
"But after I retired, I disappeared; you didn't see me much during the last Six Nations. Myself and my missus went travelling for four months to get a bit of head-space and it was really good to come back refreshed." Ferris says he's enjoying retirement and the lifestyle it brings, but the memories in his mind are accompanied by the pain in his body. Sensible management of his earnings allowed him some space to pick the right career path, but the pain remains.
"I've really bad feet. When I came back from my ankle injury, I was training so much, I was running a lot of miles to try and get the joint used to it and it didn't come around," he explained.
"When I was running, I was putting a lot of pressure on my fore-foot and started to develop neuromas on my toes and then, when I played those few games, it was very, very sore.
"They're still there now, the idea was there to give it a year or two to see if the swelling and nerve root goes down, but I'd to wear shoes all this week; rarely do I wear suits doing a bit of work here and there but it's very sore and I'll definitely have to get those sorted out.
"The ankle joint is actually OK because I haven't run since the Saracens game in 2014. I just do some weights to keep myself in shape, I'm one of the lucky ones who doesn't have to jump on the rowing machine to keep the weight off.
"It is what it is at the minute, but I will have to get something done with the feet. Even being on your feet all day, the knee plays up, the lower back plays up but the upper body is thankfully not giving me too much grief."
Ulster Bank Rugby ambassador Stephen Ferris, has been travelling the country this week with the RBS 6 Nations trophies as part of the annual Ulster Bank Trophy Tour. Ulster Bank recently announced that their long-standing support of Irish rugby will continue as they remain title sponsors of the All-Ireland League until 2018 as well as Official Community Rugby Partner to the IRFU