Diligent Downey finally reaps reward with first Ireland cap against Canada in Toronto
The 32-year-old centre will earn his first Ireland cap after a lifetime in the shad
James Downey during a squad training session at Upper Canada College, Toronto, yesterday. Photograph: Inpho
1. One who has fully served an apprenticeship in a trade or craft and is a qualified worker in another’s employ.
2. an experienced reliable worker, athlete, or performer especially as distinguished from one who is brilliant or colourful.
Ever take a ticket at the motor tax office and have to wait for what seems an interminable amount of time?
Try doing that your entire career.
Finally, last Wednesday evening in Toronto, Jimmy Downey’s number was called. The Ireland number 12 jersey is on loan to him, probably just for today, but he’ll take it and plough into the first Canadian that gets in his way. And the second and the third.
Just ask Harlequins fullback Mike Brown.
This is the 32-year-old’s reward after a lifetime on that unforgiving, underpaid meandering off-Broadway rugby road he has travelled since making a name for himself in the AIL way back in 2003.
Not long ago a reader of The Irish Times contacted the sports editor to complain about yours truly. Nothing new there, but the reason for the man’s ire was interesting.
Downey being called a “journeyman” hadn’t been digested so well. And it was “James” not “Jimmy.” Unfortunately, we never got to talk to the reader but that’s probably for the best because a journeyman career is exactly what his has been.
It is meant as a term of respect. Maybe “survivor” would be a more universally complimentary description.
Anyway, this is the story of an ordinary, decent rugby player called James “Jimmy” Downey.
In Luke 4:24 Jesus said, “No prophet is welcome in his hometown.”
A big lump from Belvedere College, Downey was overlooked by Leinster and Ireland schools, the only national recognition being the Ireland Under-19 squad, under Declan Kidney.
There was no Academy contract after the Leaving Certificate so he went to college and wasn’t long breaking onto the club scene.
Clontarf found a channel for him to thunder down, helping them reach the league final at Lansdowne Road, only for Ballymena to flood their team with Ulster professionals and escape north with the spoils.
“It was a great Clontarf team. Off the back of that season I think six or seven lads got contracts.”
That seems like an awfully long time ago.
“It was a long time ago,” he laughed. “Leinster were playing Perpignan in the Heineken semi and Matt Williams involved me in the squad, just to help out as a bag holder, but I really enjoyed it.”
That was over 10 years ago.
Before this tour got under way Downey was called into Carton House as cover for Stuart Olding. The promising 20-year-old being the latest in a long line of inside centres to hop scotch over him.
“It will only be for the week in Carton, James,” he was assured. “You’re only touring if Stuart’s injury doesn’t clear up.”
The highly-promising Belfast three-quarter recovered but the management made a late call, after much discussion, to bring Downey to Houston as there wasn’t another inside centre around what with Gordon D’Arcy and Luke Marshall on ice for the summer.
Downey’s form had been patchy enough until a cracking performance at The Stoop when Munster crushed Harlequins in April. That was why he moved from Northampton to Cork last year. To do what he does but to do it in front of the Irish public. To get a cap.