James Downey retired from rugby at the age of 35 this week. Never content with the life of a bit-part squad player in one of the Irish provinces, Downey roamed Europe in search of game time, beginning his quest in Calvisano in Italy in 2006-07.
From there, he moved to Northampton where he enjoyed his most fruitful spell, playing almost 150 games for Jim Mallinder's resurgent side, and starting the 2011 Heineken Cup Final against Leinster.
Downey was capped by Ireland in the summer of 2013 against Canada. By that stage, he was back with Munster, spending two years there during Rob Penney's time in the job.
He agrees with the contention that getting rid of Penney at the end of 2014 was a shortsighted move.
It was always going to be a tough ask. Rob coming in and changing the whole way Munster played. They were so used to a certain style. If you look at Connacht now and you see the way Pat Lam is running things. It's an equivalent style of play to the way Rob wanted to play when I was there.
To be fair, I think the Munster lads were getting it towards the end of the second year. Skill-sets were picking up. But he was fighting an uphill battle.
I think a lot of that work kinda went out the window. They had to kinda start again. I wouldn't say it was a wasted two years. But it was a frustrating two years.
I thought he could have got another year. I thought in the second year, people were starting to the right decisions and doing the right things. We still had the personnel to play Cup rugby. Another year might have pushed things on a bit further.
After years sulking in the shadows, the English beast now rules the roost in the European club scene. Downey spent his final season at Wasps and is well placed to gauge the change in attitude in English rugby. He sees hard times ahead unless the Irish provinces can attract private investors.
It's hard like, it's not the good old days of the Heineken Cup, where you'd get the Kiwis. I was even talking to Charles Piutau the other day. We were talking about Ulster and Munster and his move. He hadn't heard too much about Ulster when he come over but he knew about Munster because of all the All-Blacks they attracted at that stage. And the landscape has changed... We'd a love affair with the Heineken Cup and the Champions Cup doesn't quite have the same ethos. Financially, it's too hard to compete with the French and the English. The money that the teams have and the players are driven by, not necessarily money, but you've a short career and if someone is going to throw money at you.
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