When Mike Sherry won a cap on the tour of the United States and Canada in 2013, it looked a near certainty that he would soon challenge for a regular place in the middle of the Ireland front row.
However, a series of serious injuries put paid to those aspirations leaving Sherry, now 29, battling to prolong his rugby career.
He has never abandoned those Ireland dreams though and and will be boosted by a start for Munster in the Guinness PRO14 at Thomond Park on Saturday — his 100th appearance in the red jersey.
“Yeah, I had it all mapped out in front of me — the best-laid plans,” Sherry ruefully admitted this week.
“There were four of us at that stage, Rory Best obviously, Sean Cronin, Richardt Strauss and myself. Rory was the definite first choice and we were all up in camp and went on a few tours, New Zealand the previous year. So I was young, I was getting these opportunities.
“I thought, ‘ok, stay in there, keep playing well for Munster’ and eventually someone will get injured and I will get in.
“That’s the way it works. Unfortunately, I was the fella to get injured and lads got in front of me. So that is a long way off now and I have a lot of competition here in Munster, obviously.
“But, look, I’m still ambitious and I still want to get back up there. It is still in the back of my mind to get to two caps and equal my dad!”
Sherry’s father Mick played twice for Ireland back in 1975, featuring in a 25-6 win over France in a career that also produced many outstanding performances for Connacht, Munster, Lansdowne and Garryowen.
At his best, Sherry junior was a first-class all-round hooker and powerful ball carrier who scored some crucial tries for Munster on the biggest days of all. But he had to endure some desperately bad luck with injury.
Worst of all, a supposed “tidying-up job” on his shoulder “turned into a nightmare requiring three different surgeries”, while the knife was also needed to repair his back. ACL trouble also meant another lengthy spell on the sideline. As a result of all that, making it to 100 appearances for Munster was very far from his mind.
I often thought about retiring and moving on to something else nice and just be happy doing something else,” he admitted.
“Luckily I stuck with it. I had great support here and at home. No, I didn’t think I’d make a hundred Munster caps but I also knew if I walked away I’d regret it. And I know that if I can get a run and get fit I can compete and that’s why I stuck with it and luckily I’m getting that opportunity this weekend.”
It was just over 12 months ago that he started getting some feeling down his leg again. “I rocked up for day one of pre-season wondering whether or not I’d get through it.
"Fortunately, I’ve been fit all year but opportunities have been limited — mainly Munster A games and the AIL with Garryowen — and now it’s just about taking opportunities that come my way towards the end of the season. And I still feel that if I can put my best foot forward I’ll have an opportunity to get into the 23 for the big games.
I hope my body is going to hold up. I do want to give myself every chance of getting an injury-free run and seeing if I can still compete and get back to the level I was at and get up further with Ireland. For now that is my main focus.
Being offered a fresh one-year contract by Johann Van Graan did a power of good for Mike’s self-belief.
“Yeah, it was a big boost. I chatted to him a lot and he said we really want to keep you.
“That was great to hear from somebody who hadn’t seen me play a lot. It’s good to know that I’m still wanted here and rated here. It was a big boost and was a big relief for me as well and I can now concentrate on next year.
“I want to rock up for pre-season and get through all that again. I still feel like I can compete. It’s been a long time since I played week in, week out at this level but I still have belief in myself.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.