"They ripped us apart, the two of them on their own.
"We were looking at each other going, 'can they play for us at the weekend?' Because Leicester won't be able to deal with them.”
- Brian O'Driscoll
There was a time when Brendan Macken and Andrew Conway came as a perfect package.
This dynamic duo were, perhaps, the greatest one-two punch in the history of Blackrock College, claiming the Leinster Senior Schools Cup on March 18th, 2009.
Two months later, their meaningful work for the year concluded. Macken and Conway were invited to join Leinster for their preparations in the week of the Heineken Cup final against Leicester Tigers at Murrayfield on May 23rd.
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They put their telepathic relationship to work against their heroes Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy and Jonathan Sexton, leading O'Driscoll to make the revelation above.
"Yeah, we were at school one day and Michael Cheika and Collie McEntee came into school and asked myself and Andrew would we like to go training the next day," said Macken.
"I can't remember what was going on. They were just down bodies and we were on our way into the Academy anyway that summer.
"The session was on in the RDS. We went down and it was a great experience."
Macken recalls one standout memory, coming when Rocky Elsom flew out of the line to take man and ball, Macken flicking the ball onto Conway before taking it back in the lead up to a try.
"As I later learned in the Academy, there is always a celebration when the non-starters scored against the starters with everyone cheering. I just remember everyone laughing."
Conway has evolved into a different type of player, making his mark at the highest level.
Meanwhile, Macken has been playing away, enjoying and evolving in a successful time in England on loan at Gloucester in 2015, at Wasps for three seasons (2015-2018) and at London Irish for the last two seasons.
At Leinster, Macken, was noted as an entertainer for his spot-on impressions and light-hearted approach.
He would acknowledge there was a streak of immaturity running through him and, when things didn't go his way, that was what people pointed to.
There was an accusation out there that he didn't want it badly enough. That was not the case.
Really, there was a far deeper reason for Macken's stagnation at Leinster.
"I was never the class clown at Leinster. I just want to get that straight," he stated.
"If Michael Cheika had stayed longer at Leinster, I would have done better. I knew he rated me highly. He gave me tonnes of confidence.
"Cheika had just given me my first senior contract when he left and, unfortunately, Joe Schmidt felt this was a bit premature."
It was not an auspicious start and things did not really improve. It didn't take Macken too long to see there would be no meeting of minds with the new coach.
"Joe Schmidt probably wasn't my favourite coach. I went into my shell. My performance suffered as a result."
The struggle to comply with Schmidt's strategy was born out of being asked to play a role he was not built for.
"Over time I went from loving coming into Leinster, absolutely loving it, to not feeling that way towards the end."
Macken had had enough midway through the 2015/2016 season. He took the decision to make a day-trip to Harlequins in pursuit of a move to The Premiership, which eventually came on loan at Gloucester.
The truth of the matter is Macken had a good deal of growing up to do outside of his poor relationship with Schmidt.
And he knew it: "At Leinster, you go to Dundrum, people recognise you. You go into town, people recognise you. You drive around with Leinster written all over the car. It all adds to the ego.
"The fact of the matter is you haven't achieved a whole lot, you've done nothing substantial in the game.
"I was still living with my parents and all the comfort that brings," he stated.
"When I went over to the UK, I had to grow up pretty sharpish. It was really hard, really difficult, completely different to what I was used to.
"I was still immature when I was at home. Everything was done for me. I needed it, to go over there where nobody knew me, find my way and grow into the man so different to the boy I left behind at Leinster."
However, it is a long-forgotten piece of reporting that has gnawed away at Macken for years.
"I went out to the 2011 U20 World Cup in Italy with Ireland. I remember there was an article in one of the English newspapers about players to look out for and I was the Irish one named."
It was a talented back division from half-backs Kieran Marmion and Paddy Jackson, to three-quarters Craig Gilroy, Luke Marshall, Macken, Conway and full-back Tiernan O'Halloran.
"Everyone in that Irish backline has gone on to be capped except for me," he rued.
"That remains a major frustration for me. I think about that. It still hurts."
It is that void that exists in not making it to the highest level in the game that fuels his drive to make it there one day.
"I'm still just 28. I'm not 34. I know I have so much to give in the right environment," he said.
The three years at Wasps were just what he needed before a two-year deal was struck to play for London Irish.
During Macken's time at Wasps, there was a marked improvement, being heavily involved in three seasons that led to the Premiership semi-final in 2016 and final in 2017.
Perhaps, the greatest thrill was reserved for the 51-10 demolition of Leinster in his first season at The Ricoh Arena in the Champions Cup, playing through all 80 minutes from the inside centre berth.
London Irish Director of Rugby Declan Kidney is similar to Wasps' Dai Young in that the Corkman signed Macken with a similar message for the centre.
"He remembered the player I was at Leinster. He wanted me to go out and enjoy myself. That was music to my ears."
The Dubliner is part of a regeneration of London Irish's identity with Sean O'Brien, Paddy Jackson and Conor Gilsenan at the club.
"It is very Irish. There are Irish accents in the physio room and in the backroom staff," he said.
"We've got the move to Brentford. Hopefully, we can attract a bigger gate now because it is in the heart of south-west London, much closer to the city."
He is not sure if he will be there when London Irish get back together for pre-season.
The club has spent the bulk of their salary cap on the likes of Waisake Naholo. Adam Coleman, Steve Mafi, O'Brien and Jackson, leaving Macken uncertain about his future given his contract expires in a matter of months.
At present, Macken and his fiance Jane, from New Zealand, have just begun a family with baby Mia and that brings deeper responsibilities.
"I would be absolutely devastated if I had to leave top-flight rugby this summer, even though I am also working towards a qualification in finance at present."
The coronavirus couldn't have come at a worse time for Macken, just as he was about to make his return from shoulder surgery in November. He has had no luck at Irish this season.
"I had a good pre-season, was enjoying my rugby at twelve, thirteen and on the wing until I dislocated my shoulder," he said.
In 2008, Macken dislocated the same shoulder at school and, in 2011, he broke his collarbone in what has otherwise been a career free of serious injury.
"I would love an opportunity in Ireland. That would be ideal to showcase what I have learned in the Premiership," he stated.
"I know I am a far more complete player and a more mature person at this stage of my career."
He would relish a place on the roster of any of the four provinces.
That sense of unfinished business lingers.