Tommy Bowe says he does not want to end his Ulster career without adding to the Celtic League trophy he won 11 years ago.
Back then, Bowe was a fresh-faced 22-year-old bursting on to the scene, and was joint top scorer with 10 tries.
It all looked so easy, but he was then tempted to Wales by big-spending Ospreys for the next four years, while Ulster have not added a single title to their honours list since, despite some close calls.
Bowe returned to his home province the summer after they were hammered in the Heineken Cup final by Leinster, but the promised potential has not been realised since, with players like Johann Muller and Ruan Pienaar departing without a medal to their name.
Bowe, now 33, has just a few seasons left and hopes the summer coaching shake-up at Kingspan Stadium can help end the long wait for silverware.
“Ulster is my home, it’s where my heart is and where I always wanted to go to, and the structure and everything in Ulster is something else — we’ve got an incredible fanbase, an incredible stadium, facilities, we’ve got everything,” he said.
“Unfortunately we don’t have the silverware. We don’t have the full trophy cabinet. And that’s a regret, you know.
“I don’t want to finish my career having not having won anything in over a decade with Ulster and I’m not going to have that many more years to go and do it.
“So it’s a case of... and we keep saying, ‘Yeah, this is our year’ over and over again, and there’s nothing more frustrating.
“But all we can do is try and get off to a good start in the league and just keep working on the fundamentals that we’ve been working on all through pre-season.”
Jono Gibbes, Dwayne Peel, and Aaron Dundon joined Les Kiss’s reshuffled coaching ticket this summer — a last throw of the dice for a province that has threatened to compete with the best but not quite crossed the line.
Two wins from two indicate a good start, but the test Scarlets will offer tomorrow night will be greater than that of Cheetahs and Treviso, their opening opponents.
“It wasn’t hard to see that Ulster weren’t playing very well and that something needed to change,” Bowe said.
“So whether it was players going to change or coaches going to change, something had to change because unfortunately the last two years haven’t been up to the level that we’d been used to, and we would be expecting.
“Someone like Jono Gibbes coming in provides a real hard edge to the team and that’s something that he’s really worked hard on, and that will definitely help us as the season goes on.
“Dwayne Peel, everyone remembers the exciting player he was, and he’s really challenged us as a team and a backline, to improve our handling in crucial areas of the pitch, which is probably something that’s let us down in the past couple of years.”
Tommy Bowe started both games in the centre, a change from his usual wing role, and says he’d be up for wearing Brian O’Driscoll’s No13 shirt for Ireland in November if Garry Ringrose and Jared Payne are not fit.
“I’d like to give it a good go, to get a good run of a couple of more games and grow into the position.
“I’d love to play in November, of course, I got injured playing for Ireland even if it was only for 40 seconds, but my goal is always to represent my country and Ulster, there’s no point playing professional rugby if you’re not going to aim for the top.
“I feel fit, I feel probably as good as I felt in a few years. If that call came, I’d be more than delighted, I know I can do the job.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved