'I heard a crack and I was thinking the worst'
The Big Interview: Andrew Browne
With Eoghan Masterson returning from his year-long absence in Connacht's victory over Zebre last weekend, it created the perfect chance for Andrew Browne to slip back into the set-up unnoticed by many of the drenched Connacht faithful.
The 30-year-old lock has had some injury setbacks again this term, and he was replaced by Quinn Roux 11 minutes after Masterson exited to rapturous ovation.
The Renmore native has suffered hamstring, thigh and ankle injuries this season but he is determined to stay fit between now and the end of the season, as Connacht look to launch a sensational comeback in the Pro12 to secure Champions Cup rugby next season.
In truth, the automatic places look out of reach at this point, but with big names like Masterson and Browne joining Pro12 Player of the Year, Bundee Aki, back on the pitch, the reigning league champions look destined for a Champions Cup play-off spot.
"I was sick and tired of coming to the Sportsground and watching games. It's very hard watching the lads doing what they do there when you can't contribute," says Browne.
"I've had a few injuries, and you can deal with it better the more you have. But still every couple of weeks it's hard watching the lads going out. It's just about getting out there and wanting to be on the pitch in front of the crowd again.
"I was out for about eight or nine weeks at the start of the season. I pulled my hamstring in pre-season - it was the third week into it. That was slow to heal so it kept me out until the Zebre game that got cancelled.
"Then coming back in I strained my quad in training. I only got four or five games under my belt when I was back. It has been a frustrating season that way."
Connacht's 33-3 bonus-point victory over Zebre, in dreadful conditions at the Sportsground, was a sign that this Connacht team has returned to the peak of their powers.
It's the time of the year when Pat Lam's men tend to flex their muscles and excel in the Pro12, with other sides missing a greater contingent of internationals to the Six Nations.
But Browne was devastated when he fell injured during a less fruitful part of Connacht's season. It came when Connacht were letting opportunities slip, and the Dragons game in Rodney Parade was the epitome of all that could go wrong, going wrong in Round 8 of the league last November.
"I remember it pretty well, it was only three or four minutes into the game. I was carrying a ball and whatever way I got tackled, a player landed on my ankle and whatever position it got in I was certain I was injured straight away.
Recovery "I heard a crack and I was thinking the worst. When I got up I was feeling okay and I was going to continue, but when I walked on it, it was a no-go. It turned out I did syndesmosis ligaments in my ankle, nearly 100 per cent gone, front and back. And I fractured my fibula as well, higher up in my leg. That was the start of the recovery process from there.
"I got surgery up in Santry about a week later. It was Johnny McKenna that I went to. He would be the ankle man up there. He did what feels like a good job. Hopefully it holds up.
"Prior to that I never had too many problems with my right ankle. It was the same ankle as my Achilles injury which I missed a whole season with in 2011, when we were in the Heineken Cup. That's not ideal but I am able to keep on top of that.
"I did think it would keep me out this long. I was given a 12-week diagnosis. With me I'm a notoriously slow healer so you can always add a few more weeks onto it. I had prepared for it to be that long. Once you prepared for it it's nearly easier to deal with it in the long-term."
Browne has played 149 times for Connacht, but all of his injuries this season have restricted his chance of retaking the position vacated by Aly Muldowney.
Muldowney left for Grenoble before the start of this season, and after impressing in the role initially, Browne looked set to become the creator in midfield for Pat Lam's 4-2-4 system. But injury meant it couldn't materialise and he has only played four times in the league, and cruelly just twice in Europe.
"I got the first two games in. My first game back from the quad was Ulster and I played Toulouse at home and that was an amazing day. It was a pleasure to play in that.
"I played Zebre which we won quite well. I was happy with how it was going and then I got that injury against Dragons. I was going well at the time, it was a real low blow.
"I knew with the big games coming up, the back-to-back against Wasps, then Zebre and Toulouse. I knew I wasn't going to get back in time for and I just had to get my head around it."
But now the NUIG Arts student is back in business in the Pro12, and after playing over an hour against Zebre, he wants to push on towards the end of the current campaign.
"I am excited to be back out there now. It has been great training with the lads again. You can do all the fitness you want, but once you get into a game scenario it's a whole different ball game.
"With the bit of mauling I did in training before the Zebre game, I don't think I was ever as tired during that injury-break.
"I am very excited to be back out there and the main objective is to stay injury-free, get my form back, and do my best for the team for the rest of the season."