Eoin Reddan is going home. There may well be a physical red carpet on his arrival, but that will be purely coincidental.
Reddan will take the field on Saturday evening as a European champion, a scalp to be taken by a Munster squad desperate to salvage a trophy from a disappointing season in Europe. A red pack; desperate to take out some frustration of their failures on Leinster. The blue jerseys may as well have a target pasted onto the solar plexus.
But Reddan is comfortable in that situation. He has worked throughout his career to reach this level, he is not about to complain about it. What does make him uneasy is retrospective thinking to the darker moments in his memory bank, namely a dank Limerick day in January 2005.
So when asked to explain why he left the southern province, Reddan’s eyes widened even further than usual: “It’s an interesting time to ask me this.” He said with a wry smile underneath a set of blue dinner plates, wondering how to put a complimentary spin on a time when the rejection from his boyhood heroes caused him so much anguish.
Until that crunching question, Reddan had sat happily at the top table in Leinster’s Riverview base. His eyebrows rose intermittently, enthusiastically hoovering up every scrap of information from Joe Schmidt and Leo Cullen as if it were the first time his mind had heard it.
Every morsel of knowledge could be vital. As a scrum half, he is under more pressure than most when it comes to competition for an international jersey. The island currently boasts five top-class number nines, each with a set of skills that makes it difficult to definitively choose one over the other.
On Saturday he could be in direct opposition with two of them: The old reliable Peter Stringer and Munster’s current supplier, Conor Murray.
However, he doesn’t need to cross the Shannon to find a rival. Provincial teammate, Isaac Boss has been vying for selection all season and Joe Schmidt has often preferred his countryman as a more physical alternative when trench warfare is expected.
Ahead of the Magners final, Schmidt is hinting that some of the players who went to hell and back in the Millennium stadium, will be given a breather to reward an impressive season from Leinster’s shadow squad. But Reddan will surely retain his place after his buccaneering attitude in that third quarter helped turn the game on its head.
Not to mention the incentive of playing in his home town: “It definitely adds to it being from limerick” said Reddan, “my family will be there and it’ll be great to be able to play in front of them.”
That attitude was at the heart of Reddan’s goals growing up on Shannonside:
“I wanted to follow the dream. You grow up (at) 15, 16 dreaming of pulling on the red jersey. Obviously I wanted to do that, I gave it a go and it didn’t work out.”
At a time when Peter Stringer was at the peak of his powers, Reddan was vying for the understudy role with Frank Murphy and Mike Prendergast. And so, struggling to make the match-day 22, the province decided to bide their time on the future double Heineken Cup Winner
The Old Crescent man takes a breath and picks up the story. Perhaps giving it some straight laces after time has healed some of his wounded pride:
“Well, basically, I left Munster because that was it. There was no more contract there for me at that time.
“It was in January, they said there wasn’t anything there for me and they’d have to wait until June to make a call.
“I was pretty devastated, went home and literally: the phone rang. It was Sean Edwards saying ‘do you want to come to Wasps?’ It was the biggest coincidence of my life. I just said yes, I didn’t even ask about years, money anything and it was literally done in five minutes.
“At that age (22) I spent an hour wondering what I would do next, you don’t want to be waiting round three or four months and end up with nothing.”
A coincidence if ever there was one. Edwards and Wasps just happened to be following up their interest for a player whom they had initially sounded out while starring in Connacht. But at that time the red jersey proved more alluring more than the black.
While Reddan was across the water, he missed out on Munster’s double Heineken triumph and returned to Ireland from Wasps to Join Leinster after their first success. But he claimed European and Premiership medals of his own en route to 100 appearances for the High Wycombe outfit.
Now, six and a half years after being culled from Munster, Reddan returns. It must feel like a lifetime. At 28, Reddan is top of the tree, Ireland’s first choice distributor and chasing trophies with the hunger of a man making up for lost time, but the efficient application of a player who has seen it all before.
“It’s good to have these challenges, it’s what you work really hard for during the summer – now you’re here, you’ve put all the work in you’ve done the right things to make sure you’re fit and ready to go and now you have to go and do it.
“Being here is one thing but actually going and doing it is the next thing.”
Sportsnewsireland.com will have live score updates on all GAA Championship matches over the summer.