UCC were the opposition and their tighthead was a Plant and Microbial Biotechnology undergrad from Fermoy by the name of Mike Ross. Cullen was already turning out for Leinster for two years by then. Ross had another six to wait before he could call himself a pro.
Ross worked two years as a lab technician on graduating and turned out for Cork Constitution. A couple of appearances for the Munster ‘A’s were his lot after that before he grew tired of closed doors and decided to go and open a few for himself in the UK.
Cue three successful seasons with Harlequins, a move back to Ireland with Leinster and, eventually, a call-up for the national squad. Over 200 games and six medals later for club and country and it is all coming to a close at the grand old age of 37.
So, how would he like to be remembered? “As someone who made the most of himself. I probably came a very different path to most lads to the professional game; just to show lads that you don’t have to do the schools, academy traditional route to get into the team. There are other options,” he explained.
“You can see that with players coming through the non-traditional pathways and if it gave them a bit of an example that you can do it, I would be happy with that.”
Ross will take a vault full of memories with him when he clears out the locker next month. Chief among them will be the 2011 Heineken Cup final miracle win against Northampton and the first of his two Six Nations medals from 2014.
But it’s not time to check out mentally just yet. He starts tonight at the RDS for a Leinster side that has already assured itself of home advantage in the Guinness Pro12 play-offs and against a Glasgow Warriors outfit that needs to bag five points just to keep their unlikely knockout hopes even mathematically alive.
Head coach Cullen has made 13 changes from the side that started the Champions Cup loss to Clermont. It’s a young side but this looks like another opportunity for the province to showcase its depth. And for Ross to play a part in taking the club a small step closer to what would be his seventh and last medal.
“We haven’t won anything since 2014 so that’s a long time for a club like Leinster. We definitely want to finish the season on a high because how you finish the season determines how your summer goes. You know, whether you’re grumpy or happy. I’ve been grumpy the last few years.”
Z Kirchner; A Byrne, R O’Loughlin, T Daly, F McFadden; R Byrne, N McCarthy; P Dooley, J Tracy, M Ross; R Molony, M Kearney; D Ryan, J van der Flier, J Conan.
T Seymour; L Sarto, N Grigg, S Johnson, L Jones; P Horne, H Pyrgos; A Allan, F Brown, S Puafisi; B Alainu’uese, J Gray; T Swinson, C Fusaro, A Ashe.
M Mitrea (FIR)