Ireland's Tommy Bowe on his long journey back from injury

Ireland and Ulster winger Tommy Bowe might be talking about American football when he says that he’s going through a Jammie Dodger phase.

But he’s not. The 32-year-old, who is gearing up for the new rugby season after 10 months on the sidelines due to injury, is talking biscuits. 

They’re his guilty pleasure, he says — his “go-to” after dinner with a cup of tea.

“At the moment, I’m on a bit of a Jammie Dodger phase, but it can go from Jammie Dodgers to Toffee Pops to caramel digestives. I could talk all day about biscuits.”

He’s smiling but, he says, that’s nothing compared to the smile you’ll see when he gets back out on the pitch with his “brand new knee” and starts scoring tries in the busy season ahead.

“The season — and the matches — will come thick and fast,” he says, listing what’s in the pipeline: five more matches with Ulster in the Pro 12 league, the European Champions Cup and the international season, which kicks off against New Zealand in Chicago.

But Tommy Bowe is taking it one step at a time. He’s training five to six days a week and eating four meals a day on the recommended 5,000-calorie a day diet (Jammie Dodgers not included), but he’s taking nothing for granted.

The memory of the long road back from that awful day last November when he suffered a posterior cruciate ligament injury during Ireland’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina is still too fresh in his mind.

“There is a lot of exciting stuff in the pipeline, but for me I’ll have to try to hold it back a little bit having not played in so long,” he says.

He’ll approach the season in the same way that he approached his recovery over the last ten months by setting small, achievable targets. 

“I have a lot of hurdles to get over before I start thinking too much about what’s next. ‘Next’ is getting myself into the team and playing well.”

Part of playing well is eating well, he says, taking a bite of a wholemeal chicken and salad sandwich while chatting to Feelgood.

It’s a gloriously sunny afternoon and he’s sitting on the terrace of a café at Grand Canal Dock in Dublin taking some time out before catching the train back to Belfast to train.

Ask him about diet and he is blessedly measured in his response: “It’s not about not eating this and not eating that; it’s more about a balance and a healthy lifestyle.”

Right now, though, eating well is about having four meals a day and lots of snacks to offset the weight loss that has come with the tough training schedule.

A calorie count of 5,000 (twice the normal intake for the average man) sounds like a phenomenal amount of food but it adds up easily when you consider breakfast, which is usually some form of eggs, French toast, bacon or porridge, three more meals throughout the day and constant snacks of natural yoghurt, nuts, seeds and protein shakes.

Is there the odd bar of chocolate in there?

“Absolutely,” says Bowe. 

“Denying yourself chocolate for four or six weeks is only going to increase your craving for it so that when you do eat it, you go mad and eat 10 bars of it, back to back.”

Have you ever done that?

“Oh, god yeah. Fortunately, I tend to be one of the guys who tends to lose weight no matter what I eat, but it’s not all pizzas and burgers. It has been boiled chicken or pasta for me, but if I do go to cinema, I like to have popcorn or coke.”

The key, says Bowe, is to eat in moderation. 

“Don’t overdo one thing or underdo another thing. Try to be more balanced and it lasts longer.”

You get the impression that balance is something of a guiding principle and that it got him through the last 10 months of injury.

The injury came just months after his marriage to Lucy Whitehouse, the nurse and former Miss Wales he married in May 2015.

“Poor Lucy, she had to put up with a lot with me being injured,” he says, adding that she worked all day in a GP’s practice in Belfast and then had to come home to her other ‘patient’.

“I had dark days and she kept me in high spirits. Injury is not a nice place to be.

“We are very fortunate to play the sport that we do and we don’t take it for granted, but I play rugby to play matches, not to sit on the sidelines or sit in the physio room,” he says.

Though, he adds, the bad days have turned out to be really important for him.

“When you are in the depths of wondering if your knee is ever going to be the same again, that’s where the strength comes from. Whenever you do come back, you know that you’ve been through that and you will come back stronger. Mentally, you feel as if you have overcome a bit of an obstacle. Playing will be the easy part.”

And when he does get back on the pitch, he will be wearing a GPS (Global Positioning Systems) tracker which will allow coaches on the sidelines to gauge every step he takes on their laptops.

“It’s amazing. GPS is the biggest change that I’ve seen in sport in my career. We have video analysis but GPS has taken it to a whole new level,” he says, explaining that it will be extremely useful to him coming back after recovery from injury.

“It can tell me what speed I can get up to. If I’m back to 100%, or if I’m running more on one leg than the other, or struggling to accelerate or decelerate.”

In the modern game, substitutions are made not because someone is playing badly but more often because GPS is showing they are too tired or they are at risk of injury.

While the focus for Tommy Bowe is all about his return to the game, he has lots going on outside of rugby. And he has worked hard to make sure that is the case.

He surprised himself — and his parents — by completing a post-graduate diploma in business management, from Hibernia College and the University of London.

“I was never a good student. I didn’t enjoy it. To think that I now have a degree and a post-grad is something that my parents laugh at,” he says.

He comes from a sporty family in Emyvale, Co Monaghan.

His father Paul played rugby, his mother Ann is a regular eventer — “she’s the one to watch. She has unbelievable nerve” — his sister Hannah has caps for Ireland in hockey and his brother David played rugby too.

Growing up, Tommy Bowe played all sports; soccer, Gaelic – “you can’t not be a GAA player in Monaghan” – rugby, tennis, golf and horse-riding, but made a decision to play rugby at age 17.

“My dream growing up was always to play for Ireland and the day that I got selected and stood in Lansdowne Road to play will always be the highlight for me.”

He knows, however, that he can’t play rugby for ever, which brings us back to his ventures outside the game – six years ago, two brothers from Monaghan asked him to launch a new shoe collection Lloyd&Price and a clothes brand, XV Kings, stemmed from that.

He’s wearing one of his own shirts and says: “We are not trying to replicate Kanye West’s new fashion label. We are trying to cater for the average man going to a rugby or a football match or going to the pub with a few of his mates.

“We want to make affordable clothes; a brand that men are proud to be seen wearing.”

Before he heads back to Belfast, he tells Feelgood how much he likes living there.

When Lucy moved there first, her parents saw protests over flags reported on the TV news and rang up, concerned.

“She said, don’t worry; ‘I was just down the shops’.

“I think the city has come on so much, even since 2002. There’s a huge restaurant and pub scene and every year we have more and more tourists coming in.”

At home, it’s Lucy, him and Bonnie, the cocker spaniel who is “the queen of the house”.

They might well add to the family, but a dog is enough chaos right now, he says, though he does add that taking her for a walk is a great way of winding down.

That and a cup of tea with a few Jammie Dodgers.

Subway teams up with Crumlin hospital

SUBWAY sandwich franchise has teamed up with the Children’s Medical and Research Foundation (CMRF) Crumlin to help raise much-needed funds for children’s medical care.

Today at Subway, if customers donate €1, they’ll get a cookie and all funds will go to CMRF Crumlin.

Subway ambassador Tommy Bowe says he hoped people would donate to this worthy cause.

“Subway wants to give something back by donating to help fund medical research at Crumlin Children’s Hospital,” he says.

CMRF Crumlin is the fundraising body for Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin and the National Children’s Research Centre (NCRC).

The NCRC is at the centre of paediatric research in Ireland and is part of a global network of research working towards advances in the earlier diagnosis and better treatment of childhood diseases.

For example, research conducted by the centre has helped doctors to develop better approaches to treating severe asthma attacks and also to pain management at Crumlin’s paediatric emergency room.

Donations will also help fund an upgrade of the hospital’s outpatients department, which is used by more than 80,000 children a year.

www.cmrf.org

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