Just when you thought this season could not get any better for Irish rugby, head coach Ian McGeechan and his management team doff their caps to the Grand Slam champions by including a record 14 Ireland players in the Lions squad to tour South Africa.
For winger Tommy Bowe, who has scored five tries in eight Tests for Ireland this season, this will be his first Lions tour.
The Monaghan man joins a five-man winger contingent that includes his Ospreys colleague Shane Williams, his Ireland team-mate Luke Fitzgerald, England’s Ugo Monye and Welsh starlet Leigh Halfpenny, who is the youngest member of the Lions panel at 20.
Bowe admits that with so many of his Ospreys and Ireland team-mates in the squad bound for South Africa, he will have little trouble fitting in.
“It’s fantastic news and after achieving the Grand Slam with Ireland it pretty much rounds off a great season for me,” he said.
“It’s been a long, tense wait for everybody over the last few months with all the media build-up, but the waiting is over and I’m just thrilled to have made the squad.
“A Lions tour is a pretty special thing, all rugby fans know about the folklore that comes with it, and to be confirmed as part of the 2009 Lions is an incredible feeling.
“It’s a unique experience, with four countries coming together, but with five Ospreys team-mates as well as 13 other Irishmen, I can’t see it being that difficult for me to blend in.”
Cork-born lock Donncha O’Callaghan played in the final two Test matches of the 2005 Lions tour to New Zealand, so he will be doubly determined to made this summer’s ten-match tour a resounding success.
Featuring alongside tour captain Paul O’Connell, his long-time second row partner with Munster and Ireland, would surely make it all the more special as the Lions try to overturn the World champion Springboks.
Reacting to his Lions selection, O’Callaghan said: “It’s always a huge honour to be picked out as one of the elite of four countries, a massive honour. It’s something I don’t take for granted. I’m just so proud really.
“I’ll try not to sound like Deccie (Declan Kidney) but it’s one of those days where it’s for all your school teachers, underage coaches, people who put you in the position, guys down in Cork Con who helped you out.
“It’s a day for them to be really proud because they invested their time and being picked on a Lions squad is one of the greatest honours.”