Having planned for life beyond rugby for some time now, it is fitting Duncan Casey bade adieu to the sport with three games still to play in his final campaign in professional rugby.
The Cork-born hooker, who grabbed a second lease of his playing career at Grenoble following an injury-hit conclusion to his Munster spell, has decided at the age of 28 to give up “the job every boy dreams of having”.
Casey will in the New Year resume the Masters degree in Politics at the University of Limerick he put on hold to grab the opportunity of game-time in France in January 2018.
A career in international relations is the ambition but though Casey believes he played his last game for relegation-threatened Grenoble last weekend at Montpellier, there remains the possibility of one last hurrah on the rugby field.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner this week, Casey said:
I’d like to think there’s still going to be a glorious moment or two for me where I can help salvage the club’s season and stop us from going down or even playing a play-off but I’d say last week against Montpellier was probably my last game.
"I’d imagine they are going to go full strength if possible from now until the end so I’m unlikely to figure.”
Casey is refreshingly blunt as to the reasons he is not in Grenoble’s go-to front-row, as he will explain, but first the admission the 47-12 defeat at Montpellier was “a more emotional experience than he had anticipated”.
“Just little things on the day of the game I suppose... in the dressing room, particularly, I was seated across from the sub nine and the sub 10 who are two young guys, only 20 and 21; so I did picture myself at the age those guys are now and the hunger they must have and the nerves and the desperation to succeed and actually have a stable career in professional rugby.
“Those moments did make it a little bit emotional all right because it’s been a huge part of my life, what I’ve dedicated my life to more than anything else since the age of 16.
“Once I got stuck into the warm-up it was just another game and I was able to go on and do reasonably well despite us taking a heavy enough score. But I enjoyed it, it was kind of a nice way to finish.”
Having fallen down the pecking order at Munster following a serious pectoral muscle tear and then a knee injury, Casey is grateful for the second chance he was given by Grenoble, for whom he signed initially as a medical joker in their successful push for promotion from ProD2 to the Top14.
“It was great that I came over when I did when I really had nothing to lose. I was just crying out for a bit of a gametime and just playing a game of professional rugby.
“I came here and went straight into the starting team just through injuries and suspensions and that was my first game of professional rugby leaving aside the British & Irish Cup in 15 or 16 months, I think.
“It was only when I said that to the lads and realised how long it had been did it give an indication of how much my luck had turned in the wrong direction at Munster.
“Even if you’re part of a great organisation and you’re very happy in your environment, you’re being paid to play rugby at a professional level.
"You’re not really being paid to play with your club, you’re a professional and you want to be playing professionally.
"Going a year and a half without getting a single game or even a single minute of first-team rugby, you can imagine how that wears away your confidence and just knocks the wind out of your sails.
“And particularly for me given that I had been going so well, it was that bit harder for me to take than, for example, if I had gotten a taste and was still plugging away with the goal of breaking into the 23 or first team.
Everyone has to go through that period but it’s probably rarer that guys see their position elevate as quickly as I did from being nowhere, really, then see it fall back down to where I was or even a little bit lower than it was.
“So it really worked out well. I came over and into a scenario whereby I was in a team that was chasing promotion and luckily I was able to play an important part in that last third of the season.
“Thankfully we got promoted and while the rugby hasn’t gone particularly well for me this year, just given that it’s competitive in my position here, to be part of some fairly big occasions, some wins and some losses but some fantastic days and evenings out playing against ridiculous quality in fantastic stadiums in front of brilliant supporters... while from a rugby point of view it could have gone better this season that almost wasn’t as much of a priority as just giving it another go was and experiencing something else.
Thankfully I’ve still managed to get a decent bit of gametime under my belt this year so it’s been tremendously positive.
Casey has been injury-free for most of this season although he carried a nagging and very painful groin injury through the opening months of the campaign.
“Unfortunately I can put my finger right on why I wasn’t in favour at the start of the year and that would be down to my scrummaging.
“That was a bit of a shock for me. I was never a big, powerful scrummager back home but I was adequate and it was never a massive weak point for me, never a problem. But it’s a totally different ball game over here in terms of both the emphasis that’s placed on it and the way it’s refereed and the calibre of guys you have in the front rows over here.
“We signed a few new lads in the off-season and I got a bit of a rude awakening throughout pre-season. I was being run backwards routinely in training by Georgian lads and French lads that were very big and powerful scrummagers.
“So that was quite interesting to see, the totally different emphasis on the type of athlete they like over here in the front row. If you can be dominant at scrumtime they don’t care what you can do around the pitch, that’s very much secondary, whereas being a powerful scrummager is much less of a factor at home because there’s less penalties given.
“I had to learn quite fast there and thankfully I did. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m quite a competent scrummager, even at Top14 level, and when I do play it’s never an issue. I’m quite pleased with myself in that sense because it was something I’d never identified as an issue before but I’ve learnt a huge amount in that area coming over here.
But that’s basically why I started off, I wouldn’t say on the wrong foot, just down the pecking order and the lads that were ahead of me have been playing very well all season and my opportunities to break back in were limited.
“I’m long enough in the game now to know that’s just what happens, not that it didn’t bother me but I didn’t lose a whole pile of sleep over it because I knew I was still going to get opportunities from time to time and I was still enjoying being part of the squad here.”
Committed to enjoying his last few weeks of professional rugby, Casey is looking back on his career with “fairly solid satisfaction with most of the things I’ve managed to achieve. I’m also quite excited to get stuck into something else and start the next aspect of my life.”
Going a year and a half without getting a single game or even a single minute of first-team rugby, you can imagine how that wears away your confidence and just knocks the wind out of your sails