Kieran Bergin: I was a messer in America but I transformed my life when I returned home
Kieran Bergin still has to pinch himself to make sure that the transformation he sees and feels is actually real.
The man who has admitted snacking on bags of popcorn and Maltesers when the call came from selector Michael Ryan in late 2012 inviting him in to train with the Tipperary squad thought such an opportunity had passed him by.
By his own admission, he had been a "messer". The devotion required for senior inter-county hurling was sacrificed early in his career to chase "the good life" as he calls it.
He spent seven years between a variety of US cities living it up, chiefly New York and San Francisco, Chicago for a spell too.
At 26, he came back home but by then the inter-county train had long since pulled away from his platform. Or so it seemed.
In that sense, his progress has been quite remarkable. Bergin has bucked a trend by putting down such roots in one of the top hurling teams in his late 20s.
As a half-back or as a midfielder, he has offered Tipperary great versatility over the last three seasons. He admits he didn't think it was possible.
He had watched the 2010 All-Ireland triumph in a Chicago bar. Those around him encouraged him to go home and try to make a case. But he never thought it possible.
"I was only playing at an intermediate standard for seven years out there. I thought there was no chance I'd ever get up to the same level as Seamie Callanan and 'Bonner' Maher and all these guys. I've been very blessed to be back in this situation and you just take as it comes."
He doesn't gloss over or sugar-coat the changes he has made in his lifestyle.
"I've completely transformed as a person since I came home," he admitted. "I would have been a big messer in America, enjoyed the good life and going out and the whole social scene in the bars.
"I would never have really given up drink when I don't have anything to give up for. When I came home I became more focused, went to college. Maybe I was just maturing but I changed.
"I went from drinking pretty much every weekend and socialising to drinking maybe seven or eight times a year. It was a massive transformation for me and I never thought it would happen," he revealed.
As he prepares for a second All-Ireland semi-final on Sunday, he appreciates what he has.
"The cards have been dealt to me and I'm just happy to be here. I never thought I would be sitting around and signing autographs for kids. The only time I ever signed an autograph was writing a cheque out to someone!"
Would he recommend what he did as a career path for future Tipperary hurlers? It's a dilemma they consistently face, he acknowledges.
"There are two sides of the coin. You have players saying they'd love to go to America for the summer," he said.
"I know at the time when I left, my parents were very upset. They didn't want me to go because I suppose they thought I had some bit of a career in front of me.
"But I chased the good life and I probably got it all out of my system. I'm just fortunate I came home.
"Even talking to some of the younger lads, they would say, 'I'd love to have done what you done'. I couldn't say 'go' but the likes of Cathal Barrett and these lads, they're under 21 now and by the time they're 31, they're not going to have travelled.
"Instead they'll have a wife and kids and commitments here and the whole travelling and socialising part of your life is gone.
"But at the end of the day it could be worse. You could win a couple of Liam MacCarthys and they are the moments you remember. When I look back at the seven years in the US, there is no one stand-out night that makes me say, 'Wow, I remember that night down in San Francisco when we were singing in the street'. You're going to remember every single minute of an All-Ireland final if you win it.
"The Munster final was surreal. You're thinking, 'This will stand in my mind forever' whereas the brain cells will just be killed from a night out."
Still, players need their release. It can't all be structure and repetitive routine, he acknowledges.
"We had a drink ban in 2013 and, sure, we lost our two championship matches. We were gone in early July."
The importance of winning the Munster title and claiming some silverware for the first time in three years can't be undervalued, he admits.
"We had a lot of hunger coming into this year's championship. We had a lot of hurt from last year.
"We were the hard-luck story and nobody wants to be the hard-luck story. You'd rather be on the Kilkenny side of the border, taking home Liam MacCarthy," said the Killenaule man.
"We hadn't won anything in three years. There was a lot of pressure coming into it and a lot expected from the hurlers. I suppose we don't always deliver. The last 10 or 15 years, we don't have as much Liam MacCarthys won as we should have. There was always added pressure with that and all you can do is cope with it.
"It was tough last year. It was such a long year and such a draining process going all the way. There was three weeks between the All-Irelands and it took its toll. It would have been some cushion had we won Munster."