'I missed a European Cup final with Ulster, but for me the move was good'
If tonight's game between Ulster and Ospreys was a testimonial fixture ahead of his upcoming retirement, Tommy Bowe may well play a half in white and a half in black at Kingspan Stadium.
As it is, there are vital points on the line for both sides in their respective race to ensure Champions Cup qualification for next season and the Monaghan man will be in the hosts' No 23 jersey. But there can be no denying the sentimental value of the fixture as he counts down his final weeks until hanging up the boots.
Now 34 years old, as he reflects on a career soon coming to an end, it's clear how important the four years he spent as an Osprey were. It's where he played arguably the best rugby of his career, established himself as an Irish star and where he became a Lion for the first time. On a personal level too, it was during his time at Liberty Stadium that he met his wife Lucy.
"For me, it'll be a special game," he acknowledged. "I think going over there was going to be a challenge for me. I'd been playing decent rugby but I couldn't break my way into the Irish team, I remember I got into the Six Nations eventually but I was finding it hard.
"I needed to do something different, I needed to test myself, I made the move. It wasn't an easy decision to go over there. To go to a new club, you have to push yourself, you have to train that bit harder, you have to prove yourself.
"Especially with the standard of players that they had over there at the time. I had to push my game on. I learnt a lot, I enjoyed the style of rugby that they played and it was an enjoyable four years.
"In four years, we won the league once when I played and once when I didn't play in the final.
"We had two European Cup quarter-finals, we lost to Munster badly and we played over in Biarritz in a game we could have - should have - won but didn't. Given the squad that we had, when you look at teams, in Europe we did underachieve. That would be one of my biggest disappointments in that we weren't able to get to that next stage.
"I missed out on a European Cup final with Ulster, I missed out on some big games here. I missed out on things, who knows what way my career would have gone. But for me, the move was good. I've always needed a new challenge, needed to push myself and going to the Ospreys was certainly that. It pushed me a long way."
Thanks to the back injury sustained by Louis Ludik in Edinburgh last weekend, Bowe got an extended run in the Murrayfield victory - as he notes wryly, it was the first time the team had won with him in it since the trip to Harlequins in early December - providing him with that warm glow in the aftermath that he knows will be so hard to repeat come his transition into life after rugby.
"In that changing room after you win, it's a feeling that's so hard to describe. It's a feeling you'll never be able to recreate," he said. "You get wins where you win and you know it wasn't the best of performances, but for us to go over there, deny them the bonus point and get the bonus point...
"The performance wasn't 100pc exactly what we wanted it to be, but with the tough couple of games we had before that, it was about getting the result, getting the bonus point and getting ourselves back into contention again.
"I was part of the warm-up against Cardiff (the week before), and after that I came in and thought after the week's training that the boys were primed.
"Cardiff scored within three minutes and it was probably one of our most disappointing performances of the season.
"In Edinburgh, the warm-up was okay but maybe not completely on the money but we scored a couple of quick tries. That's why I won't go into coaching. I don't know what makes this team tick or whether it's just the bounce of the ball. Things worked in our favour in Edinburgh and it's just about getting that little bit of momentum."
There's not been much of that of late, with Ulster having failed to win back-to-back games at any point since mid-December of last year and, with the sun soon to set on this season, the margin for error is slim.
The boon of last week's win over Edinburgh, which cut the gap to the Scottish side and the final play-off spot down to eight points, will count for little if they don't keep up the pressure on Richard Cockerill's men, who face a testing visit from Scarlets tomorrow.
"There was great excitement after the Edinburgh game," Bowe added. "It was a good result for us, to get the bonus point over there. The guys are on a bit of a high but one win is not going to make our season. We have to back it up this weekend and we've a couple of big games coming up."
Ulster - C Piutau; L Ludik, D Cave, S McCloskey, J Stockdale; J McPhillips, J Cooney; C Black, R Best (capt), R Kane; K Treadwell, I Henderson; M Rea, J Deysel, S Reidy. Reps: R Herring, A Warwick, T O'Toole, A O'Connor, N Timoney, D Shanahan, L Marshall, T Bowe.
Ospreys - D Evans; J Hassler, K Fonotia, O Watkin, H Dirksen; D Biggar, T Habberfield; N Smith, S Otten, D Arhip; B Davies, D Beard; AW Jones (capt), S Cross, S King. Reps: I Phillips, R Jones, M Fia, L Ashley, G Mercer, M Aubrey, S Davies, J Hook.
REF - A Brace (IRFU)
- Ulster v Ospreys, Live, BBC NI, 7.35