Rugby Union

Tommy Bowe: Tackling criticism? Stick to your strengths and keep your head up

Ireland's Tommy Bowe during the RBS Six Nations game against Wales at the Principality Stadium, Cardiff..
John Flack

TOMMY Bowe has revealed how he learned to thrive on criticism in the latter part of his rugby career after initially taking to heart any that came his way.

The former Ulster, Ireland and British Lions player now prefers to let others judge players' performances in his role as a presenter for eirSports television coverage of the sport.

Bowe, who retired from professional rugby two years ago, certainly broke the mould in his playing days - off the pitch at least - occasionally raising eyebrows in the process.

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No Irish rugby fan will ever forget his impromptu rendition of 'Black Velvet Band' on the occasion of the national team's homecoming at the Mansion House on Dublin's Dawson Street following their 2009 Six Nations Grand Slam

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The Monaghan native grabbed the mic on the stage and sang a couple of verses, expecting his team mates to join in, only to realise he had been the victim of a set-up.

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Then when announcing his retirement on social media towards the end of the 2017/'18 season, Bowe finally had a good-natured swipe at one of his earliest critics.

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RTE pundit George Hook had branded Bowe 'too slow to play international rugby' after he had scored on his Ireland debut against the USA in 2004 and his response in a poem displayed his impish sense of humour.

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He wrote: "I've spent most of my career in Belfast, at first George said I wasn't very fast, I eventually found my gears, had some incredible years, but it's time to tell you - this is my last"

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Two years on, Bowe now enjoys his latest media role, having previously combined playing for Ulster with contributing to RTE's 'Getaways' holiday series in the final season of his playing career.

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He can obviously empathise with the current crop of players, when they are subjected to criticism in the conventional media or social variety.

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"When I was young and at school, there'd maybe be a bit of slagging and you'd get into your parent's car and head home," Bowe said.

"Nowadays though when kids get home from school, that's when the phones come out so, it's actually worse.

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"A few criticisms I had early on hit me hard but, again, it's about sticking to your strengths and keeping your head up.

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"I know when I was a rugby player, certainly towards the end of my career, the criticism was actually something I craved and it spurred me on."

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Despite his critics, Bowe had a glittering career, winning 69 Irish caps, playing in two World Cups and taking part in two British and Irish Lions tours in 2009 and 2013, missing out on a possible third after sustaining a broken leg against Wales in the Six Nations in 2017.

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Eight years earlier, he had happier memories of a trip to Cardiff as his brilliant solo try helped Ireland beat Wales to seal their first Grand Slam for 61 years.

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Yet, casting his mind back, Bowe says his career wasn't all plain sailing and contained a few disappointments, compounded by some of the criticism he received.

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"I was very fortunate because I didn't play for Ireland schools; I was at school in Armagh and barely made it into the Ulster schools' side," Bowe recalled.

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"I got rocketed through the ranks with Ulster and Ireland, getting my first cap when I was 20.

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"At that stage, I really thought everything was so easy and it was going well although I had one or two bad games.

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"That's when it hits you what the press can do. You read a few bad reviews and you take it on board and your confidence gets hit.

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"There were a couple of moments early on in my career where I really didn't take well to some of the criticism.

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"Then I didn't make the World Cup squad in 2007 and it was the first time not making the 30-man squad for Ireland and I was devastated because the World Cup was the pinnacle and that's where you wanted to be."

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However, Ulster's then coach Mark McCall offered Bowe some useful advice which helped turn things around.

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"We talked about what was going wrong and what was going right, I was just so fed up," Bowe said.

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"Mark told me that standing out on the wing, not getting the ball was no good for me so I needed to get involved and take people on. ?

"He encouraged me to focus on my strengths when things weren't going so well."

Two years later, Bowe was taking centre stage at the homecoming as he celebrated Ireland's Grand Slam.

However, he'll be the first to admit that singing was clearly not one of the strengths McCall was referring to.

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