Wallace will not just 'make up the numbers' on return from injury
PADDY WALLACE has been labelled the forgotten man of Irish rugby since he was in his mid-20s.
And so, as he targets yet another comeback from injury, now in his 35th year, it is little wonder he is eager to remind supporters what they have been missing.
Arguably one of Ireland's most neglected talents, Wallace has still carved out a decent career, but one wonders what he might have achieved had he been within a more enlightened and productive environment for a sustained period.
Ulster's success arrived too late for his gifts to be fully appreciated.
On Saturday, he hopes to play his first game of rugby for nine months following the major knee reconstruction that stemmed the influence of the talented playmaker, who played a key role in Ireland's 2009 Grand Slam success.
Ulster's most-capped player, with 188 appearances to his name, Wallace is still centrally contracted, but that will not be renewed this season.
And so, it will be up to him to prove to Ulster that he is deserving of another playing contract.
Officially, Wallace's professional playing days are due to finish at the end of the season. But he is determined to issue his own statement of intent.
"I don't have any fear about going back – more excitement than anything else," said Wallace (below), who has spent a disproportionate amount of his 13 professional years being re-sculpted by a surgeon's scalpel.
"I've never been somebody who has worried too much about things that go wrong. I always take the positive angle to things," he says.
"It has been nine months graft and the closer you get to the likes of the Heineken Cup, you don't want the fear. You have to put your full trust in the medical staff at Ulster.
"They have said I'm good to go and, having trained very hard for two weeks, I'm very close to 100pc.
"I may not be able to come back to where I was with an injury like this and I keep getting a lot of stick from the squad about being the oldest, but all that plays its part. I've probably played my best rugby for Ulster over the couple of years leading up to the injury.
"And that's when you consider that I carried two very dodgy shoulders around with me for those couple of years when I couldn't lift weights in the gym.
"But I've also had those sorted out since last season and now I actually feel fitter than I've every done.
"I look on that as a real positive and am confident that I can still play at a level similar, if not better than what I was before I was injured."
He has won 30 caps for Ireland and, were he not been sidelined himself, the national team's recent injury-ravaged profile would surely have seen him as a factor in Declan Kidney's final days as coach.
Now, he is no longer part of the national conversation, but he is keen to stave off redundancy for as long as conceivable.
"As a player, I guess you want to be relevant," he admitted. "I certainly do not want to be someone who makes up the numbers.
"I also want to be able to use my experience to help the squad anyway I can, like being a mentor to some of the very talented youngsters coming through.
"I know there is a tremendous amount of competition in the backs now, but I will be fighting to play as much as I can for Ulster. Mentally, I know I can still help Ulster.
"I wouldn't have gone through what I did go through the last nine months if I didn't want to play on. The proof will be in the pudding."
Already, he is contemplating what may happen if the conversation reaches a dead end.
"I'm doing a little bit of coaching at my daughter's school at present, but it is at a low level," he added.
"But I may take a complete break and take a step back from rugby for a few years and concentrate on something else, unless something arises straight away.
"I would certainly like to stay within sport. Maybe I could do something around the business side of sport, but whether the market for that is big enough here for those opportunities is another thing.
"It's something that you use the time doing when you're injured – looking at all the options that are out there. It's all I've known for the last 15 years."
Now all he wants is the opportunity to extend his shelf life by a few months, at the very least. Few would begrudge him such an opportunity to negotiate his future on his own terms.