Not in his wildest dreams did Aly Muldowney think a casual Sunday morning phone call from a friend would lead to a place in rugby’s history books.
But then it’s been quite an eight years for one of the game’s gentle giants, who started out fancying a pint with his local club Stafford and will soon be drinking from the Heineken Cup as an Exeter Chief.
“I’d never have expected any of this,” Muldowney admits. “I just wanted to play a bit of social rugby and have a few beers afterwards.
“I’d been playing basketball but the travelling was pretty hard-going, then someone I knew rang me up, said they were short and asked if I’d fancy a game. Because I didn’t have a Sunday league football match I said I’d play.”
His journey began as a centre for Stafford 3rd XV, before he went backwards to move forwards as full-back for the 2nds and then it dawned on somebody that, at 6ft 5ins and 18st, he might, just maybe, make a second row. “Clearly they were seduced by my turn of pace,” he says.
To be fair, they could equally have been persuaded by his outstanding handling and, even as his career trajectory has become more steep, his performances have retained more than a trace of the hours he spent on a basketball court.
At Stourbridge and Moseley Muldowney was known, not only as a big carrier, but as an excellent exponent of the off-load, which with the suffocating uber-organisation of modern defences is now the sport’s moneyball.
But it was his retention of possession that brought him to national prominence last weekend in a Premiership match between Gloucester and Exeter, the first non-live broadcast fixture to be played with the aid of Television Match Official.
With the visitors trailing 27-21 in the final minute, Muldowney picked up possession two metres from the home line, sidestepped one defender and crashed under the bar between Mike Tindall and Matt Cox for the try that would enable Gareth Steenson to kick the winning conversion.
However, Warwickshire referee Greg Garner was unsighted and referred the matter to TMO Tony Spreadbury, who having already denied James Hanks an earlier score, eventually ruled that Muldowney had grounded the ball.
“It wasn’t nerve-racking waiting for the decision at first because I knew I had got the ball down. But the longer it took to make the decision the more doubt started to creep in.
“There’s a lot of controversy in football. If the big decisions go wrong people moan about it. If it helps to get the big decisions right then why not use it?” So says the 28-year-old whose place in rugby lore is now secure.
And few would begrudge him, even those at Moseley who in 2010 tried to convince him to delay his move to full-time rugby in favour of a third season at Billesley Common. “I was ready for it,” he recalls. “I loved my time at Moseley and have some really great memories like winning the National Trophy but I think both parties needed to move on.”
For Muldowney that was to Glasgow where Sean Lineen offered him the chance of professional sport but where he first had to overcome the back injury he picked up in his final game in Red and Black.
“Going into that environment was one of the biggest eye-openers I have ever had. The quantity of weights I had to get used to lifting was something else.Then there was the three sessions a day, weights, conditioning and rugby, which meant by the time I got home at night I was absolutely shattered. It’d be food, bed, sleep.”
Nevertheless, the hard yards had to be put in and they paid dividends as Muldowney proved himself a valuable member of Lineen’s first-team squad alongside ex-Mose team-mate Ryan Wilson.
Off the field, though, his family found it difficult to settle north of the border so Lineen agreed to let Muldowney return to England after just one of his two-year contract and when Exeter came in he jumped at the chance.
“You don’t say so at the time but I jumped at the chance of moving to Devon. My partner’s got family in Torquay and it is a great place to bring the kids up, it’s worked out really well.”
Both collectively and individually. Muldowney has played 22 times this season and in 13 of Exeter’s 18 league matches. Saturday’s historic try was his first and lifted Rob Baxter’s men to within three points of the top four and the Premiership play-offs. With London Irish and Worcester as their next two fixtures they will be more than hopeful of making it.
There’s also the small matter of an Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final at Stade Francais a week today and of, course, the few more points Chiefs need to book their place in next season’s premier European competition.
“It’s brilliant at the moment, we are so excited just to be playing these games, we go into them and just attack them because there’s so much to be gained.
“And from a personal point of view it’s going really well, the coaching is excellent and I definitely feel I am improving as player.”
All of that from a speculative Sunday morning phone call. “I would never have believed any of this,” he says.