James Crombie/INPHO Dowling celebrates against the Blues.
Dowling delighted to have back issue behind him as he settles in with Connacht
The second row endured a long wait and rehab before he got to pull on the green jersey this month.

IT’S BEEN A long road back to competitive rugby for Oisin Dowling. And that’s not even counting the journey along the M6

Dowling left his native province Leinster last year after completing three years in the academy.

He took the field eight times for Leo Cullen’s side, but progress was hampered by a bulging disc in his back that left him needing bouts of painkilling injections while he waited and waited to add to his eight Pro14 appearances, But his tally of professional appearances stayed at that number right up through January of this year.

February arrived like the green shoots of spring for Dowling and the young lock earned his Connacht debut against the Dragons this month and impacted off the bench again at home to Cardiff last weekend.

An unencumbered presence at training and medical clearance to play makes all the difference for a player trying to settle in with a new team. Long-term injury is tough in a regular season, in Covid times it’s doubly difficult.

“We wouldn’t be on the pitch at the same time. Obviously we couldn’t really meet together and you wouldn’t have as much social interactions,” Dowling said in a virtual press conference from The Sportsground this week.

“So you do feel on the outside a little bit. You kind of just need to get to know people in the changing room, but it’s different than it would be in a normal year.”

It’s always great to be playing. After being injured for such a long time it makes it that bit sweeter.”

Life is sweet again on the pitch for the former St Michael’s and Lansdowne lock, while off it he will have salt in his nostrils having made his new home in Barna where he can aid his post-match recovery with bone-chilling Atlantic dips.

Aside from the big switch from east coast to west, Dowling feels more similarity than difference after settling in with his new club.

Fellow ex-Leinster men like Tom Daly, Jack Aungier and Gavin Thornbury must help to ease the transition, not to mention Nigel Carolan, who was Dowling’s coach at Ireland U20 level.

“There’d be a few differences around the gameplan, but they’re both high performance professional environments. So that aspect is quite similar, not a whole lot of difference.

“I think I’ve adapted well. Obviously when I came in I was injured, so I was able to get to grips and watch how it works a bit more.

“Once I started playing again, it was easier because I felt I knew the systems. It’s a bit easier when you’re able to watch a lot of training sessions, games and stuff. You can see it a bit more.”

Come Friday he will hope to see a bit more action when Connacht travel to Italy to take on Benetton.

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