I was stood directly in line at the Millennium Stadium in 2009 so saw the ball reach its apex before it dropped just short and into my hands.
We celebrated in style that night, and it was very special to be on the pitch at the end when we won it.
As with much of my career I’d had a real battle for the full-back jersey, that year with Rob Kearney, but for most of it with Girvan Dempsey.
It’s funny when you have two guys like myself and Girve who were fighting so hard for that one spot, everyone thought we must hate each other. In fact, we got on really well.
I’d started out playing a fair amount of Gaelic football in Kildare before going to Waterpark, an AIL third division team, and I didn’t really ever expect to play pro rugby.
I was lucky that Kevin West, a mentor for me at Newbridge, wrote to London Irish and Leicester and convinced them to give me a trial.
The way the set-up was in Ireland those days, I didn’t really have too much of a link to one of the provinces.
I went for three weeks at Leicester, and to be honest I saw it as a tool for my development, but I never expected to get a contract.
I started in the second team, but training alongside guys like Martin Johnson, Dean Richards and the rest, guys I’d been watching play for years.
I arrived in 1997 and we didn’t win anything that year, but after that I think we had about five years where we won something every year, and the double a couple of times.
Those Heineken Cup finals in 2001 and 2002 were incredible in their own way. The game against Stade Français gave me the chance to play at the Parc des Princes, something I thought I’d never be able to do after France moved to the Stade de France.
A year later against Munster I was up against a lot of guys I knew from back home. Obviously getting that first try was pretty amazing.
I got my first Ireland cap in 2000 against the USA but I had a really tough year in 2003, breaking my leg in the final warm-up game before the World Cup, that was devastating.
Thankfully I was only out for five months, and even got back for the last couple of Six Nations games, and helped us win the Triple Crown.
A year later going on the Lions tour to New Zealand was a real eye-opener. I knew how good they’d be on the pitch but I didn’t quite realise how hostile it would be off it.
I ended up playing in that third Test, and it’s one of those experiences which was brilliant but incredibly difficult at the same time.
The 2007 World Cup was a real disappointment for all of us, but I was pleased with the way I managed to battle to make it to New Zealand in 2011.
It’s been tough to match what we did at Tigers in those early years, but we’ve been to a couple more Heineken Cup and Premiership finals and won the Premiership as well.
Now I’m focused on winning my place back in the team to help us add a little more silverware this season.
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