Tommy Bowe's reaction to adversity perhaps his greatest triumph of all 5 years ago

Tommy Bowe's reaction to adversity perhaps his greatest triumph of all

"I'm still turning up to training with a smile on my face. For me, I want to keep pushing and trying hard."

That was Tommy Bowe earlier this season, full of spark and optimism before injury struck again. And again.

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Bowe will turn 34 next month and while that is young in the grand scheme of life, his 14 seasons of professional rugby make him shopworn and susceptible. He is still capable of scoring tries and cutting opposition defences apart but his body has had enough of the shell-shock. That he was able to announce he will retire at the end of the season and that he should be able to take to the pitch several more times before the end is, in itself, a victory.

But Bowe's greatest victory - amid the team and personal accolades - was his reaction to adversity and injuries. His amiable demeanour belies a ferocious resolve and belief that he could still be as good as he had been despite the surgeon's cuts, weeks in plaster and months on comeback trails.

Injuries that would end the career of others only spurred Bowe to get back and prove he was still the man so many could put their hopes on.

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We spoke with Bowe for The Hard Yards podcast, back in October, and found him in good form. He had come through pre-season in good nick, had been approached about a return to the outside centre position where he had done so well for Ospreys, before his return to Ireland, and he was posting his best speed times in four years.

Having come back from two gruesome knee injuries, those 40-metre dash times [9.7 metres per second] proved he still had enough zip to cause some havoc.

In October - before his latest knee and shoulder knocks - Bowe calculated that he had suffered, and recovered from, six major injuries in five seasons. Make that eight in six now but he is still targeting a memorable finish to his career, once he gets back playing in March.

His next game will be in the white of Ulster. It is fair to say he has played his last game for Ireland. His last outing in green was March 2017 - an away loss to Wales - and stands out for woeful reasons. He told us:

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"It was an odd one as, obviously, I'd only been on the pitch maybe 30 or 40 seconds. In that time, you just want to get on and get your hands on the ball. I think I came on at 78 minutes and was being stretchered off at 79 minutes. To be honest, it was almost a feeling of embarrassment. I just couldn't believe it - that I was on this pitch for the second time in just over a year, being stretchered off.

"I could hear the bone - my fibula - break and I knew something wasn't right. It wasn't that sore, but to have just got on the pitch only to be carted off again... people were commenting on how I was smiling but it was just this disbelief. You don't know whether to laugh or cry."

tommy bowe

He was 'a bit down in the dumps' after that injury ended his season but the arrival of his first child, Emma, and getting involved in TV presenting for an upcoming RTE and BBC travel show were two reminders that life outside of rugby whirrs on. Recharged and revived, he set his sights on 2017/18 while acknowledging, to himself, that it could be the last hurrah.

"The idea never came into my head that this could be the end of it for me. I knew it was a broken bone and that I'd come back from a lot worse.

"Knowing that, it gave me a good opportunity to go back and work on the rehab and the pre-hab I had being doing for other injuries on my body, so when it came to preseason I'd be fully fit and ready to go."

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That he was and he has played 13 times for his province this season - scoring three tries, assisting on another three - and could well rack up 20 by the season's end. He won't join the 200-club like so many of his Ulster peers but the two PRO12 titles claimed with Ospreys during his time in Wales more than make up for that.

He claimed another league title with Ulster, in 2005/06, and has also won two Six Nations titles, a Grand Slam, scored 30 Test tries and made two tours with the British & Irish Lions. Some of the very best of Irish rugby - from Brian O'Driscoll and Rory Best to Stephen Ferris and Simon Zebo - have paid tribute to him as an absolute star.

Not lining out for Ireland again will be a shame but that was not Bowe's primary goal at the start of the season.

"Ideally," he told us, "I'd love to be winning silverware."

Ulster's season has been so out there crazy this season that you wouldn't rule it out yet.

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