When the 30-man squad for the World Cup was announced two weeks ago, Tommy Bowe logged into his Twitter account to express his delight and relief. There was no sense of false modesty. Bowe would have been among the first names pencilled into Declan Kidney's squad, but the abiding memory of past failures has permanently hotwired him against complacency. Nothing less than seeing is believing.
A brief synopsis is all you need to understand what drives him. The days he was barely able to get a look-in with Ireland schools. The long painful road to establishing himself on the Ireland wing. The nightmare of the Stade de France in 2006 and the two-year international exile that followed. For a time he had convinced himself he was almost there until his shock exclusion from the 2007 World Cup in favour of Brian Carney informed him otherwise.
"It makes it a lot sweeter knowing the disappointment of having missed out the last time," he says now. "That was obviously one of the low points of my career. Getting up in the morning and seeing my name on the list was a great feeling because I know what it's like to have missed out."
In a way he thinks 2007 was the making of him. Not because he missed out on what turned out to be a traumatic collective experience, but because it forced him, after years of self-doubt, into a radical reassessment of his life and career. He sought counsel wherever he could -- friends, his family, sports psychologists -- and took the important step of leaving the comfort zone of Ulster for the Ospreys.
"It made me sit down and ask myself where I was going wrong. For the previous year I'd been making the 30-man squad and then all of a sudden it came to the crunch of the World Cup and I was left out. I needed to figure out where I was going wrong so I could get back in and it was definitely a huge source of motivation for me. So even though it was one of the lowest points of my career, it was also one of the best things that ever happened."
Sometimes circumstance can be your biggest enemy. He was so desperate to make the cut back then that he played a warm-up game against Scotland with a sore ankle and, even now, he feels the effects of a risk he was forced to take. Utterly changed times now. He carried a minor foot injury into Ireland's summer series and, because of his status, it was deemed prudent not to risk him until last week against England. "It's funny how things have changed in four years," he smiles. "I have to take that as a positive."
These are the days you live for. Nobody pretends Ireland's World Cup preparations have gone as smoothly as anticipated and Bowe knows it isn't ideal to have had so little game-time before the heavy-duty business of escaping their pool begins. He sees no cause for alarm, though. No reason for dark thoughts of past World Cups to pollute their dreams.
"Of course the players are as disappointed as anybody that we lost the matches. We'd love to be going into the World Cup with four great wins under our belt but, at the same time, we're not in the World Cup at the minute. There's been a lot of trials and different combinations tried. Up until now training has been outstanding. The whole build-up to the matches was fantastic. The players were as fit as I've ever seen them. The skill levels were second to none. Just unfortunately the matches haven't really worked for us."
Two years ago, he toured South Africa with the Lions and, on the eve of departure, he remembers Paul O'Connell delivering a rousing speech about the importance of coming together as a squad and leaving the cliques behind. Brian O'Driscoll said the same on the day of the squad announcement and, regardless of results, Bowe feels Ireland are in a good space right now.
"We're an ambitious group. We have players who have won Heineken Cups and Grand Slams and there would be something wrong to be a professional rugby player and not think you have the capability of winning the World Cup. Obviously the other side is that we know not to get too far ahead of ourselves. Four years ago it came back and bit us on the ass. From a coaching point of view they're getting us to focus on one game at a time at the minute. We have to do what we can to get out of the pool."
So the countdown begins. Five days now. The USA first up on, of all days, the tenth anniversary of 9/11. The minor sideshow too of Bowe realigned with the man who jettisoned him in 2007. He bears no ill-feeling towards Eddie O'Sullivan, though, and sees no relevance in the date to players whose only focus has to be on achieving a result and moving the ship forward.
"When you're winning you're happy," he says signing off, "and when you're happy you're winning." The only thing that matters, he thinks. The bottom line.
Sunday Indo Sport