For Luke Fitzgerald, as well as those who had longed to see him back in an Ireland jersey, it was worth the wait.
Four long, injury-hit years on from his last Test start, the British & Irish Lions wing was back in business at Murrayfield on Saturday, renewing his bid at the age of 27 to reach the potential shown at the outset of his career and contributing wonderfully to the cause as Ireland routed Scotland 40-10 to retain the Six Nations title.
There were no tries from Fitzgerald in his first Ireland cap since he came on as a replacement against the All Blacks in 2013, but that did not matter.
His role in a team performance that delivered scores from Paul O’Connell, Jared Payne and two from Sean O’Brien was enough to justify his start, even if Simon Zebo, the previous incumbent on the left wing, had been unlucky to have been cast aside in the process.
Fitzgerald, naturally enough, was delighted to have been handed the opportunity and was determined not to waste it, hitting the ground running to give Scottish defenders plenty of headaches early on with his blistering pace and clever footwork.
“I have a huge amount of belief in myself and I really didn’t feel like I had anything to prove,” he said. “I feel like I belong at that level. As a winger especially, sometimes the game can pass you by, and it made it an awful lot easier for me for the rest of the game that I had opportunities to get involved early.
“It was a fortunate start and I was happy with the game considering I hadn’t played international rugby in quite a while.”
Fitzgerald admitted that picking up a Six Nations championship medal having being parachuted into a matchday squad for the first time in the last game had been an odd experience.
“I’m obviously delighted to be involved today and there is a tinge of disappointment I didn’t have a bigger impact on the championship in terms of game-time and playing.
“I had to shelve that and I think I did that well. I was happy. I was pleased with the performance. There is a small bit of disappointment but I still feel like I was a big part of the group and I think what we always pride ourselves on amongst the group is that everyone is really, really professional and works hard, and has the best interests of the team and the squad ahead of their own all the time.
“I think I live by those values pretty well and I think I deserved a shot as a result. I’m glad I took it.”
The injuries have been well catalogued as was his tenacity in fighting to recover from each and every one of them and the Leinster back paid tribute to a large cast list for helping him get through those fitness battles, not least his parents, Andrea and Des, the former Ireland prop.
“I got pretty good support from the medical guys in Leinster in terms of searching for answers,” Fitzgerald said.
“It probably doesn’t make much sense for me to play on after that neck injury financially, so it’s just a will to go and feel like I can still go on and produce really top class rugby and improve and get to that place in the game where I want to get to and fulfil my potential.
“I think my dad has been a massive component of that, my mother as well, a huge part of that in terms of picking myself up and not feeling sorry at times when I probably have, and they were great in terms of patience and guidance in those periods, and I probably say they are the biggest components alongside my will for me to go on and fulfil my potential.
“I think whenever you come off the back of a big body of work like this and you get the result at the end, there’s a massive amount of relief and obviously exuberance as well. You could see that from out on the pitch.
“But I think it makes it all worthwhile, all the little sacrifices that you make from quite a young age to get to this place, and all the work on your own behind the scenes — it all really does make it worthwhile.”
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