This time two weeks ago Shrewsbury Town, Cotterill and Bowman did not know if the striker would ever pull on Town colours again, such was the severity of his heart scare in Ipswich.
Mercifully, expert check-ups gave an all-clear and – fitted with a heart monitor and new medication – the summer signing from Exeter was able to return. He emerged as a half-time substitute the following Saturday at home in the win over MK Dons to a special reception.
But this was truly something to behold.
Hat-tricks are a rare feat for any player. Bowman, hardly in the formative years of his career aged 29, only managed his first 11 months ago (amazingly he scored trebles in back-to-back home games for the Grecians last term, no doubt piquing Town’s interest).
A striker in the lower reaches of the Football League, Conference and in Scotland for the best part of a decade – a sign of how rare they are. Any hat-trick is perfect for any footballer. But for it to be truly categorised as ‘perfect’, the goals must arrive from left foot, right foot and header.
But the real perfection about Bowman’s day to remember was the timing and the context. The experienced striker, a popular and likeable new member of the Town squad, has been through hell and back in recent weeks.
In those few hours and days after departing Portman Road for the hospital in Suffolk, the likelihood is the Cumbrian-born frontman was questioning if that could be it for his career.
More pertinently still, he was questioning what this episode of heart palpitations – racing to 250 beats-per-minute – meant for his life and his family.
The striker revealed as much in his post-match interview after his remarkable treble against Cambridge on Saturday.
Cotterill admitted he questioned if he would ever be able to select the man Shrewsbury parted with cash for in the summer again.
The emotion, delight – and I suppose relief – on Bowman’s face when speaking to the press after his match-winning heroics was clear to see. And who can blame him?
To have not just your career but your life flash before your eyes in an incident almost out of the blue must be a terrifying ordeal. Bowman revealed the difficulties of being rushed from the game and away from his phone, unable to contact or reassure his worried family.
But all of that, he hopes, is behind him now – and what a way to start moving on and really announcing yourself at a new home.
Town fans have already grown fond of Bowman for his work rate and the affinity was clear to see against MK Dons.
But against newly-promoted Cambridge on Saturday we caught a first real glimpse of Bowman the marksman, the man who scored 14 and 15 goals for Exeter in the last two seasons. As Cotterill said ‘the Ryan Bowman he signed’.
His goals were excellently taken, scored with real composure, ice in his veins.
This was a big game for Town and Cotterill. To follow up the 1-0 home success seven days earlier with another good day in front of your own fans against – on paper anyway – lesser opposition.
The 2-0 midweek defeat at Oxford last Tuesday came with a disappointing second half and Town required improvement as away form continues to concern.
To score after just six minutes, then – comfortably the earliest time they have netted this term – was the perfect tonic during a lively start in a home game where fans expected. Bowman’s header was towering.
Indeed it was just a third game in 19 this season where Cotterill’s men have scored first and they deservedly led at the break, remarkably and tellingly, for the first time this season.
Still, the U’s had some fight in them, but Town controlled the game. Left-back Jack Iredale’s missile was out of nowhere on the hour and suddenly Shrews’ grip loosed slightly.
But Cambridge’s Adam May let that fight spill over in a poor challenge and was rightly dismissed with 20 minutes left – and boy, Bowman and Co. made them pay.
If Bowman led the way with the goals, Daniel Udoh was his co-star. The strike partner was immense, almost unplayable, he did everything but score. His hold-up play, power and touch was as good as Town have seen in more than two years. Luke Leahy and Shaun Whalley were also central figures with creative influences as Bowman slid in two cool finishes. Leahy added some late gloss with his third of the season.
But the afternoon and weekend belonged to Bowman, for whom scoring goals will not be taken for granted again.