THEN: Niall Treston made 23 appearances for Leinster Rugby between 2001 and 2005.

NOW: He lives with his wife Claire and two boys John (6) and Mark (4) in Foxrock, working as a Senior Portfolio Manager and Team Leader at Brewin Dolphin Ireland.

It was highly unusual for a 21-year-old tighthead prop to make his Leinster debut around the turn of the century.

Back then, the rule of thumb was that it was a place for grown, grizzled men, not for those knee-deep in the process of learning how to use their maturing bodies.

The perceived wisdom was that front row forwards really competed on equal footing in the mid-to-late 20s.

Such was the regard in which Niall Treston was held as an anchorman at the time when Leinster did not have their franchise number three nailed down.

It was an exciting probationary period when all things seemed possible as British and Irish Lion Paul Wallace was coming to the end of a stellar career and Emmet Byrne and Peter Coyle were jostling for supremacy.

“It is probably fair to say there weren’t too many tightheads of that age playing at that level,” says Niall.

“In the Irish set-up, John Hayes was there for a decade. But, at Leinster, I had an idea there were opportunities.

“Paul Wallace was a great help to me. I learned a lot from him, technique-wise. Gary Halpin, God bless him, was still knocking around in the beginning. Emmet and Peter were also there.

“I made it my business to learn as much as I could from all of them, as quickly as possible, while preparing to compete for their places,” he states.

The rate of progression was fast enough for Niall to make his Leinster debut against Swansea at St Helen’s in 2001.

It is never a pleasant experience, getting down and dirty in a Welshman’s backyard. Even more so back then, when it was a matter of survival of the meanest.

“It was great. There was a good crew of older players in the pack, a smattering of experience, provided by the likes of Trevor Brennan and Liam Toland,” he says.

“It was a step into the unknown and I was thrown into the deep end, in some respects. If I recollect clearly, I hung in there for an hour before Paul Wallace came on.”

Shoulder and knee injuries meant Niall had to wait for his second cap until closer to the end of the season.

“I made better inroads in the second season. I felt I had moved up to second choice behind Emmet and I was involved in the Heineken Cup, playing the second half of the quarter-final against Biarritz and, also, involved in the semi-final against Perpignan.

“I felt it was a springboard to becoming the starting tighthead. My career was accelerating in the right direction.”

In the summer of 2003, out went Williams to Scotland. In came Gary Ella. Six caps later, Niall, still 23, was really beginning to play well when his rugby world was crushed against Scarlets in November.

“I remember it well. In the second half, there was a maul off a lineout. It collapsed. My leg was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I heard a crack.

“I knew something was badly wrong. Players were moving away. I looked down to see the bone sticking out from a compound fracture. It was broken in a number of places.

“You go into shock. Then, the pain sets in. By that stage, the doctors are with you, giving you oxygen and injecting painkillers to try to stabilise you. I still remember quite vividly, when it happened, how it happened.”

In the aftermath, Niall was operated on the next morning in St Vincent’s Hospital and advised by his orthopaedic surgeon that it was a similar injury to that suffered by David Busst against Manchester United in 1996. The Coventry centre-half never played again.

“That was when it hit home. That is when I began to think about my career being on the line,” he adds.

Further, Niall suffered the additional complication of ‘compartment syndrome’ where the muscles in his leg reacted against the steel rod put in place to straighten the bones.

When he woke up, he was met with the sight of his muscles hanging outside two long cuts down his leg.

He stayed in the hospital for three weeks, undergoing six surgeries. From there, the slow, gruelling process of relearning how to walk on the leg began.

Ultimately, because of the complexities of compartment syndrome, he could never fully recover the power in his leg, a basic requirement for any rugby player, especially a front-row forward.

“In fairness, Leinster were very good to me. I had signed a two-year contract that summer. They could have gotten out of it after six months. Instead, they honoured the contract and gave me a full 18 months to do what I could to get back.

“It was lonely. It was deeply frustrating when it became more and more evident that, no matter how hard I worked, I just wasn’t getting the returns I needed.

“I was being advised by surgeons and other people that I wasn’t going to recover.

“The Leinster doctor at the time, Professor Arthur Tanner, was very good to me throughout the process and we stayed close friends until his sad passing in 2017.

“He estimated I had a slight, maybe five per cent, chance of getting back. He was the only one to provide a light at the end of a tunnel. That kept me going for a while.”

Another new coach Declan Kidney was the man to tell Niall his contract would not be extended.

“I didn’t want to look back and wonder why I didn’t do everything I could to get back. That was my thinking.”

On the back of Arthur’s advice, it took Niall to Coventry in the English Championship to play regularly to see what level he could reach with game time.

“Soon enough, I realised I wasn’t making the progress I needed even though I was sending videos of my game home.”

In the end, the IRFU’s technical expert Stephen Aboud, who he was very close with, got in touch to let Niall know he was way off where he had been and way off where he needed to be.

“I guess I just needed someone I respected to tell me what I already knew deep down. That was it. That was the end. The dream was over.”

At that time, the players’ union was in its infancy. It was the support of family, his parents’ emphasis on education, that gave Niall a head start, completing his Bachelor of Commerce from UCD, prior to commencing his first professional contract and his accountancy exams, after getting injured, in time to join NCB Stockbrokers as an assistant portfolio manager.

He has since upskilled with an MBA from the UCD Smurfit Business School and stayed in the same industry, rising to be a Senior Portfolio Manager at Brewin Dolphin Ireland as well as leading a team of investment managers across the business.

“I quickly found that there were a number of transferable skills from rugby into the business world,” he adds.

“One is having a high level of resilience, being able to roll with the punches. No matter what you do in life, you will have setbacks.

“More positively, people coming from professional team sports should have a high level of emotional intelligence, being able to deal with people, being able to lead people, knowing what makes different personalities tick.

“Aligned with a strong work ethic that you need to be successful in professional sport has served me very well in business too.

“I took a lot from my experience in the game in understanding how to motivate and empower people.”

Twenty years on from his debut, Niall took his older son John to his first Leinster match against Connacht in the United Rugby Championship match at the RDS last year.

The cycle of family life means he is ready to support his two boys whether coaching minis in Blackrock College RFC or taking them to watch the team for which he played.