Denis Leamy speaks with such raw honesty about leaving Munster behind
It was watching Ireland in action at Euro 2012, a month after he retired, when it really hit home. This was the end.
Despite having to retire at just 30, Denis Leamy managed to squeeze in a lot.
145 Munster caps, 57 Test outings for Ireland, two Heineken Cups, captaining his province and helping his country to a Six Nations Grand Slam.
Retirement - due to a hip injury - came much sooner than he expected, though, and it hit him hard. Leamy joined The Hard Yards [from 38:00 below] to talk about his Munster career, dressing room speeches and letting go of the past to embrace the future.
"In some ways," Leamy conceded, "I'm still coming to terms with it.
"You grow up with all these hopes and dreams of being a rugby player for Ireland and when that comes true, you've kind of laid out a map until your mid 30s. And suddenly that comes to a stop, all of a shock, and you're sitting in front of a surgeon who's telling you it's the end of the road - and a lot sooner than you'd have thought - it is a shock.
"It takes a long time to digest and, unfortunately for me, I've had to deal with a hip replacement a year after that as well. You're dealing with the pain, physically, and emotionally. It took a while."
Leamy announced he was hanging up his boots in May 2012. His phone would have lit up for several weeks but, with Ireland off to tour New Zealand and provincial teammates heading off on their short summer breaks, he found rugby was moving on without him.
"During the Eros, I think it was," he says, "I got a shock and thought, 'What am I going to do now?'
He got in touch with former Munster teammate Mike Prendergast [now coach of Oyonnax in the Top 14] at was invited along to assist him with some sessions at Young Munster. It took him a while to settle into the new role but he eventually found his voice, and found a new path to take.
The hip was replaced in 2013 and even though Leamy can handle the physical work-load on his family's beef farm in County Tipperary, he cannot play indoor football or rugby, even at club level. "You ho from being very, very active to doing very little and it's hard to get your head around," he says.
Rugby remains a constant in his life, though. He coached some of Munster's underage sides, including their U20s, and had a decent spell as head coach at Clonmel RFC. Work on the farm has seen him take up coaching roles, now, with Cashel RFC and Rockwell College.
It has been five years now but his voice softens when asked about his time at Munster and the players he shared dressing rooms, away days and pitches with. Ronan O'Gara once said that Leamy only spoke up once every few months in the Munster dressing room but, when he did, the words resonated for months afterwards. Leamy says:
"I was very lucky to play with a dressing room that was full of leaders. My opinion, I felt a lot of the time, was further down the pecking line from lads like ROG, Paul, Axel, Jerry Flannery, Donncha O'Callaghan. All these great players who, when they spoke, they were very articulate and good at getting their point across.
"Speaking at dressing rooms wasn't something I was very good at but, I suppose, when I did speak it was probably brought on by frustration or passion, but it's good that ROG felt I made some sort of sense!"
Munster was part of his life for over a decade but those memories will sustain him for decades more to come.