Former Leinster and Connacht centre James Downey tells IrishRugby.ie about his move to Italian club Calvisano and his recent trial with Munster.
Last season was an injury ravaged one for the 25-year-old Downey, who played only three times for Connacht during the 2005/06 campaign before being released from his contract.
Having missed out on an AIB League Division One title with his long term club Clontarf last May, the former Ireland Under-19 international was offered a trial with Heineken Cup champions Munster, as they sought cover at centre. He played three times for them in the Magners League.
But now, once again, Downey's rugby life has been thrust in a different direction.
The long memory of Calvisano coach Marc Delpoux, who recalled Downey's powerful breaks against his old club Narbonne back in October 2004, has seen the 6ft 4in Dubliner bound into Brescia eager to impress his new employers.
Calvisano have former Leinster lock Ben Gissing and Italian internationals Paul Griffen, Ludovico Nitogla and Roland De Marigny, amongst others, on their books.
The lure of Heineken Cup rugby clinched Downey's switch to Calvisano, who are currently top of the Super 10 table. The Italians have the unenviable task of taking on Stade Francais, the Ospreys and Sale Sharks over the coming months in Pool 3 of the Heineken Cup.
IrishRugby.ie: Firstly James, how did your move to Calvisano come about? And what attracted you to make the switch?
James Downey: Calvisano approached me after they released one of their centres. The coach (Delpoux) knew me as he was the old Narbonne coach and I'd played against him for Connacht in the Challenge Cup.
What attracted me was the chance to play in the Heineken Cup - it's a great opportunity to do so. It's a tough pool that Calvisano have, but it should be enjoyable.
IR: How many years do you anticipate spending in Italy? Do you know much about the Calvisano team and their players?
JD: Honestly I'm not sure...I'm signed for the rest of the season so I will see how it works out. My friend played here before, Gerard Fraser - he's at Bayonne now - and he loved it. He said it's a good place with a good set-up. I only know a little about the team but they seem like a good bunch and they're always in the top two or three in the league.
IR: What parts of your game are you looking to develop over there? Do you think you'll be able to force your way into their side for the Heineken Cup - is that the initial aim?
JD: The initial aim is to get into the league side - just try to force my way in. It's a good squad so I don't expect to walk in, but I'm looking forward to the challenge. They've a lot of young guys with Italian caps I'll have to displace them first.
Players seem to have a lot more time on the ball here so hopefully I can develop a better passing game, just get the distribution going.
...Downey on the charge for Clontarf during last season's AIB League Division One final...
IR: Did Calvisano have people from the club over to watch you play for Munster? Have they given you any assurances with regards to first team rugby?
JD: No, not that I know of, it was just that they had released a centre and I wasn't contracted. There are no assurances but I'm confident in my ability so I'd hope to make my debut in the next Super 10 game (against Carrera Petrarca PD).
IR: How were things for you with Munster - what was it like being on trial? Did you always feel the need to impress? What were the Munster players and coaches like to work with?
JD: I enjoyed Munster a whole lot. There a great bunch of lads and the coaching was top class. Being on trial can be difficult because there is always the need to impress. It just leaves you with a sense of uncertainty I suppose.
I just felt if I'd relaxed more and tried to play my normal game I'd have done better but you're afraid to make mistakes, because that might see you cut. But it's the same for everyone I think, they're all trying to get a start with the European champions so it can't be easy. Small things can be the difference between playing and not.
The players and coaches at Munster were brilliant. I must say I really did enjoy it. And the supporters were amazing. Even when the younger guys played and the internationals were away, the support was superb.
Training and playing with the Munster players was a great experience, you can only learn from them so it was great from me.
IR: You've played with three of the four provinces during your career, Leinster, Connacht and Munster - why do you think you haven't been able to settle? Is it just bad timing, poor luck with injuries?
JD: It hasn't been about not being able to settle - all three places have been great. At Leinster, you had (Gordon) D'Arcy and (Brian) O'Driscoll and (Kieran) Lewis and (David) Quinlan, then at Connacht I loved it, but the coaches didn't offer me another chance after I got injured so I had to go looking.
Then I was offered a contract at Munster but realistically I wouldn't have started so this is an opportunity to start here (in Italy) and play at that level. Maybe timing has something to do with it, but in the end, things just have a way of falling into place I guess.