The following two seasons, 07/08 and 08/09, were really spent in the long shadow cast by initially Axel Foley and then either Denis Leamy or David Wallace - three players who have amassed almost 550 caps - before he started to impose himself and earn the unanimous vote of his peers and the Munster public to be Munster Player of the Year in the season he captained the side that defeated the touring Australians (Nov 2010). He won the award by a country mile.
He played twenty five times that season for Munster, 23 the following and it would be easy to count the number of occasions he hasn't delivered anything much short of a tour de force.
It would just be as easy to count how many times he didn't gather a Sarries restart last Saturday, even easier to count how many times he didn't carry that restart across the gain-line.
And in eulogising that performance - "I think he was just terrific for us" - Munster coach Rob Penney at the post match media briefing, when asked about his possible potential as an Irish number 8 had this to say
"I know there are some great loosies hanging around in Ireland at the moment but James? We know what his strengths are and he plays to them so well. Jeepers, he would wear the green jersey very, very well."
He surely would have done in the November internationals but for the groin injury sustained in September and yet typical of the man he defied the medics to return to action at least two months ahead of schedule.
It took Coughlan four seasons to almost reach half way on the magical century march. It took him just two and a bit to become the 24th Munster player to become a centurion.
If the first four years, when he had to bide his time, highlighted his patient commitment, the second two and a bit, highlighted his class and importance to the side.