Mike Mullins has soldiered powerfully for Munster in the course of their Celtic League and Heineken Cup campaigns. But for all his blasting and force, he failed to burst his way onto the radar of Irish coach Eddie O'Sullivan and the national set up. When Munster's season ended so terribly in Toulouse, and with a gaping summer spreading before him, the 33-year-old started planning his holidays. Five weeks of rest, relaxation was on the agenda. Rugby was not. Then fate stepped in.
His Munster pal Rob Henderson was forced out of Ireland's pre-World Cup tour of Australia, Tonga and Samoa. Soon after O'Sullivan came a-calling and the upset at his earlier omission quickly disintegrated. "These things happen in sport," Mullins agrees. "You just never know. Even though I felt I had done a lot of things right to deserve inclusion, I recognised that the management have their own reasons for selecting other players.
"I was out one day and virtually in the next, but I know that I have to prove myself again if I get a chance to play during this tour." Despite a number of top-notch performances for Munster in both the Celtic League and Heineken Cup campaigns, Mullins hadn't really given much thought to touring with the national side this summer.
"The great thing is that I was pleasantly surprised with my call-up. Quite honestly, I had figured on getting five weeks holidays this year but that has all changed now. "I'll be lucky to get three weeks, but I can't say I'm complaining." "I don't think I'm finished yet even though I am going on 33 years of age," he says.
"Whatever happens in the next few weeks, I'm determined to stretch my career out for another few seasons. I reckon I can go for up to four years more, particularly with Munster." And naturally the entrapment of the elusive Heineken Cup is at the pinnacle of his objectives with the province. "It's always disappointing to lose when a team comes so close, but I am convinced that we will finally make the big breakthrough.
"When we lost to Northampton in our first final, people said it was going to be our only opportunity. Then we came back, lost a semi-final, went on to compete in another final and then lost a further semi-final. "The structure within the province is excellent and the players are certainly not gone past their prime. There may be a few changes within the squad for next season but I'm sure that the challenge for honours will be just as strong.
"It has been a huge privilege to play alongside these Munster players, particularly with the younger guys who filled slots vacated by international players when they were unavailable through the Celtic League. "These youngsters now have a year's experience of top class rugby behind them and they will get better and better. They will grow in confidence. "We asked ourselves some questions when we lost our first away match to Gloucester in the Heineken Cup and asked more questions when Perpignan beat us away. Reality suggested we were in an impossible situation but realism doesn't come into it as far as Munster is concerned.
"Sure, next season is another year and another challenge but we believe in ourselves. Players have come and gone but the bulk of the squad that started out four years ago is still there. With a bit of fine tuning and the experience we have gained along the way, there is no reason we cannot be in the final shake-up again next season." But for the moment, Munster is on hold, Mullins is totally focused on the Irish tour.
With 14 caps to his credit, he views this as an opportunity to add to the tally.
"It is an opportunity that I thought I wouldn't have a few short weeks ago. Now the challenge is in front of me, and I really do love a challenge like this."