Top Cat Dowling feeling right at home

ENOUGH of this slagging of Ian Dowling about being a Leinster man playing for Munster!

For those of you aren’t aware, the three crowns on the Munster crest represent the ancient provincial kingdoms of Thomond, Desmond and Ormond, part of which would have reached into what we know as county Kilkenny.

Up to the ninth century, however, there was also a fourth Munster kingdom, Ossory, which included most of the current county of Kilkenny, including the city itself, but which then ‘seceded’, detached itself and became part of Leinster.

Historically, then, Kilkenny was once an integral part of Munster, and since we so like to hold onto ancient history in this little island, well, in playing for the team in red tomorrow in Thomond Park, against Leinster, isn’t Ian Dowling simply returning to his roots?

And, as he points out himself, before he switched codes to rugby union he was already a Munster man, and Kilkenny already had Munster leanings: “In Rugby League, when I played for the Wildcats in Kilkenny they were part of the Munster division. I’ve said in the past, there’s always a good crew from Kilkenny who travel to Munster games, even before I was involved and I think that’s still the case today.”

So enough about that then. Ian Dowling is Munster to the core and will be doing his damnedest tomorrow evening to help the province retain that critical top-four slot in the Magners League and a place in the playoffs.

Then again you get the impression from talking to Ian Dowling, from watching him play especially, that no matter what the occasion, no matter the jersey on his back, he would be doing his utmost anyway in the quest for victory. He’s the kind of guy that just loves a challenge and one who is thriving in the current cut-throat contest for places in the Munster back division.

“The competition for the last few years has been brilliant. You have to be on top of your game to get into the starting line-up, which is great, that’s what you want. I suppose it’s also a headache the coaches want, you now have ten players coming back, all competing for places and it’s up to the coaches to try and pick the best backline from that. “That’s the way Tony McGahan wants it, I’m sure, that’s the way I want it also.

“I don’t think I play to my best if I don’t feel the pressure is on.”

Given they are in contention at the business end of both the Magners League and Heineken Cup, this is a good time of year for any player to be hitting a rich vein of form and putting your hand up for selection.

Dowling agrees: “These are the sort of games where everyone wants to be involved, this is why we all play rugby, the big days,” he said.

Of course there’s an even bigger stage, the summer international tour to the southern hemisphere, but that, says Dowling, is for another day. “Selection is out of my control. For me it’s just all about getting myself right. I’ve had a broken season with injuries, it’s just been one thing after another. For me it was all about trying to get back into that (Munster starting) 15 and take it from there.”

And it has been a tough season for this toughest of wingers, his toughest since his debut in that glorious Heineken Cup-winning breakthrough season of 2006.

“Definitely. Mentally it’s been so frustrating. It actually happened from day one of pre-season training, with an obscure injury – all around my hips just locked up. I still don’t know why I reacted so severely to the training, but it just snowballed from there with different injuries and niggles. Sometimes I’d be able to train as normal, the following week I might be out for the game. When you don’t have the consistency in your training, the season takes off, other lads pass you out. It was frustrating to watch but at the same time it kind of spurs you on to get back out there. I’m feeling good now, but I actually don’t know what went wrong with me, and the physios couldn’t even figure it out. I went for a scan, did it all. As soon as I got one thing right – after I sorted my hips out I got an injury to the knee, then when the knee was right it was an ankle or something like that. It was just one of those weird spells.”

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