'No regrets' for Beirne as he revs up for RDS return
Former Leinster lock is thriving with the Scarlets
It is only two years since Tadhg Beirne gave serious consideration to whether or not rugby was really for him.
That was the second time that the Kildare native had faced the dilemma, only on this occasion he wasn't in primary school, but rather trying to make a serious career choice.
Beirne had hit a dead end after his three years in the Leinster Academy.
A shoulder injury followed by an adductor problem in his second year ruled him out for 14 months, and as he watched other second-rows leapfrog him in the pecking order, he knew his time with his home province was likely going to come to an end.
That was tough to cope with as a 21-year-old, and his situation was worse because Beirne knew that he hadn't had enough senior game-time to seal a move at a decent level elsewhere.
Facing the prospect of returning to full-time education, Beirne approached Leo Cullen for a final chance to impress.
Cullen agreed, mainly because of the amount of players Leinster were missing during the World Cup, and even though Beirne only made four appearances in that period, it was enough for the Scarlets to come calling.
Naturally, it took time for Beirne to settle in Llanelli, which is a world away from the hustle and bustle of Dublin, but since breaking into the first team, he has been outstanding.
Tomorrow he will return to the RDS for the Guinness PRO12 semi-final, and even though he might not be wearing the blue he once dreamed of, he has no regrets about the path that has led him back to a place that he once called home.
"I had a pretty stressful time in Leinster," Beirne (below) reflects.
"My first year in the Academy went really well and things were looking really good and then I picked up that adductor injury and it took me a long time to recover from it.
"In that period, a lot of people passed me out. It was frustrating. With the environment in Leinster, you learn a lot and become a better person and player.
"I have no regrets in staying there but in hindsight, I could have left earlier. But I wasn't getting game-time so I didn't really have much footage to leave earlier.
"In that last year, I had to work really hard to stay on and Leo gave me another chance. That gave me the opportunity then to come here (Scarlets), so there's no regrets at all because I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Leinster."
Beirne's injury problems are behind him now and as he enjoys an extended run in the team, he is finally beginning to fulfil the potential that saw him tipped for big things during his time in Clongowes.
"It's been a while since I've managed to go through a whole year without picking up a serious injury," he explains. "I've been lucky enough not to get injured this year but it's also just about playing. Once you're playing, you obviously enjoy your rugby a lot more.
"I think the style of play that Scarlets are playing suits my game as well. Everything is just kind of fitting into place for me."
As for the future, like all young Irish players, particularly the ones who have won multiple caps for the Ireland U-20s, you get the impression that Beirne would one day like to return to this country.
However, that day will have to wait, because his performances this season have earned him a year's extension on the initial one-year deal that he signed with Scarlets.
"I'm taking it as it comes," the 24-year old says.
"I need to focus on Scarlets. I can't jump ahead and think internationally or anything like that because I've only just broken into the first team this year."
Given the injury nightmare that Beirne has had to endure, his grounded attitude is understandable. But he doesn't want his comeback to stop here.
A former AIL winner with Lansdowne, Beirne spent plenty of his early years playing in the back-row, which would go some way to explaining his 17 turnovers won (the highest of any lock in the PRO12) this season.
Scarlets was a good fit for Beirne: his style suits Wayne Pivac's expansive approach.
"I think it's always been there," he adds. "It's something that I have always enjoyed doing - having a crack at the breakdown. Since I've gotten here, I've gotten a little bit better at it because I'm allowed go after a ruck if I see it. It gives you that bit more confidence when you're allowed have a crack."
Beirne gets another crack at Leinster tomorrow and while the carrot of reaching the PRO12 final is enough motivation, in the back of his mind, he will be eager to prove a point.