Andrew Conway will never forget Paul O'Connell's advice when he first arrived at Munster
"I was a wild enough young man. I definitely would have gone down a few wrong paths."
Although he is unlikely to feature until October, the next Andrew Conway pulls on a Munster jersey, it will be for the 150th time.
The Dubliner is heading into his 10th season at Munster and will be doing all he can to end a trophy drought that stretches back to 2011. He will also be doing his damnedest to get back in the Irish back three picture after injury cost him a spot on their summer tour.
Conway first came close to a Munster move in 2009, when he was still at student at Blackrock College. He toured the facilities with his father but ultimately joined Leinster and won a league title and Challenge Cup with them. In 2012/13, though, Conway returned to the Munster idea and was convinced that a change of scenery, and challenge, would stand him well. Even Isa Nacewa was not going to stop him.
"I had a gut feeling to go," he once told us. "Isa even called me to one side and, I believe, he said, 'Look, I'm retiring at the end of the year'. This was his first retirement. Isa said, 'I'm retiring so there's going to be more opportunities'.
"I said to him, 'It's not about that. I'm just going with my gut here and I feel it's the right thing to do'.
"It wasn't an immediate success. My first year was a very tough one. I had a couple of injuries and not a lot of opportunities. Even looking back now, I was naïve to the fact that if that hadn't went well over the first year or two, I would have been 22, 23 and there would be home-grown guys coming up in my position. I could have been out the door very quickly'."
Conway has always been a sponge for knowledge, and advice, and, at the United Rugby Championship season launch, he recalled bracing the club's most senior of senior stars, Paul O'Connell, when he first arrived at Munster.
Andrew Conway on Paul O'Connell advice
Asked what profession he might have taken up had he not excelled at rugby, Andrew Conway jokes that he is eternally grateful he was never faced with the choice.
"I'm very grateful I was a rugby player, because I was no good in school. I was a wild enough young man. I definitely would have gone down a few wrong paths.
Having turned 31 in July, Conway is one of the senior pros at Munster, now, and has been this past few years. He tells us that he tries to make himself as open as possible to the younger players coming through, as that is what the older heads did at Munster, when he first landed.
"Paul O'Connell was very good to me, when I first came down to Munster. As he was retiring [from Munster in 2015], I was cheeky enough to tap him up for advice.
"That was me not really realising that the man had two kids, at the time, and was probably having people pulling him left and right. Here's this Irish rugby legend and I'm asking him to sit down for coffee a couple of times. But he gave me all the time in the world.
"I remember going for a walk with him, once, and going for a coffee, another time, and there were another couple of times, as well. He was a busy man and was getting people pulling him in all directions, and he was good enough to sit down with me and make a proper effort. He listened to what I was saying and where I was coming from.
"He sent me this big email, after we had gone back and forth, which was essentially bullet points of everything he felt was important. It was time-consuming stuff."
The winger never forgot that gesture, and the time given, by O'Connell and he tries his best to pay that forward now. "It's essential for the senior players to do that, if asked. You don't want to be going around trying to impart wisdom, ands having lads saying, 'Go away'. You don't want to be that guy.
"But, if you're asked, you try to help as much as possible. I'm still learning now, though. 100%. I'm learning from some of the young lads that are coming in. Someone like Craig Casey is amazing, in the attitude that he has brought."
"There's a lot of learnings along the way. With someone like me, I looked as though I was going to be the next big thing, then looked like I'd be the be the next big failure, then I clawed my way back. There was a lot of lessons learned and life experiences, through all of that, and I'm happy to share that, if people ask. But, again, you don't want to be the guy going around preaching, either!"
As for the season ahead, Conway is looking to get back scampering about on the training pitches, down at University of Limerick, and, with luck, we will see him in Munster red next month.
*Munster kick off their United Rugby Championship campaign with a 3:05pm kick-off against Cardiff, at Cardiff Arms Park, on Saturday, September 17.
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