James is a former Irish rugby union player. He played as a centre. Downey’s form for Northampton saw him earn a place in the Ireland A team for the 2009 Churchill Cup. He came off the bench in the opening fixture on 10 June 2009 against Canada, before starting against Georgia on 14 June. Downey had to settle for an appearance off the bench again as Ireland A beat England Saxons 22–49 to win the 2009 Churchill Cup Final. On 2 June 2013, Downey was added to the senior Ireland squad to tour North America. He made his senior debut for Ireland on 15 June 2013, starting against Canada.