Tommy Bowe has admitted he still cannot quite believe just how well his move to the Ospreys has worked out for him.
The Ireland winger quit his native Ulster for the Liberty Stadium last summer, a bold decision in light of the star-studded nature of the Ospreys squad.
However, the increased competition for places brought the best out of Bowe and his excellent form at club level carried all the way through Ireland’s historic 6 Nations success and into the British & Irish Lions Tour of South Africa.
As a result, Bowe is extremely proud of the fact that he decided to try his luck overseas.
"It's been an incredible 12 months personally. The move from Ulster was a big gamble for me but it's worked out better than I could ever have hoped,” the Monaghan native said.
“Obviously, the Grand Slam with Ireland and the Lions tours are the standouts for me, not just for the season, but probably, of my lifetime. Generations of Irish rugby players have dreamt of winning a Grand Slam, and so many supporters have willed it to happen every year, so to be able to be a part of that success was special. To start every game, is just unbelievable, a real honour.
“To then enjoy the Lions tour was a real bonus. When you think back to where I was when I arrived at the Ospreys 12 months ago, I couldn't have dreamt that a year later, I would not only be selected the Lions tour but would start all three tests, it's just incredible.”
However, last season was not without its disappointments. Indeed, Bowe found the Ospreys’ poor form in the Magners League and their humiliating Heineken Cup exit at the hands of Munster particularly hard to take.
“Our season faded out because we didn't hit the standards that we expect of ourselves. So priority number one this time around has to be to put that right and make sure we reach the right standards consistently,” he confessed.
“A tough pre-season will get everyone in shape and we have to really show what we can do. Our supporters deserve success, they have backed us in numbers through everything last season and it would be great if we can reward them for that support by matching the expectation that there is on us.
"It's going to be a tough season, that much is clear. The Magners League play-offs mean that there will be a real edge to that competition this year. With three of last year's Heineken Cup semi-finalists coming from the Magners League, the quality of the competition is clear.
“We also have a tough Heineken Cup group, with excellent sides in our group who will have ambitions of their own about progressing, but we realise that we have to be there challenging in these matches, reaching the standard that is expected of us.
“We showed at times last season what we are capable of, and we know what is expected of us, and what we have to do on a consistent basis if we are going to achieve our targets."