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Dublin: 5 °C Wednesday 19 December, 2018
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'It was nothing dramatic, but just a wee moment of realisation: 'I miss this''

Andrew Trimble is largely enjoying retirement but there have been moments when he’s wanted to wind the clock back.

RAVENHILL HAS CHANGED down through the years, but the matchday routine was always the same. Nerves, stress, that pit-of-your-stomach feeling of anxiety and restlessness. The drive from home, the turn in off Ravenhill Road, through to Aquinas Diocesan Grammar School where the same faces would greet Andrew Trimble every second weekend.

And then the walk into the ground, the place he called home for 13 years, and the Ulster changing room under the Grandstand at Kingspan Stadium, where he would share a career worth of highs and lows with team-mates, and best mates. It was always the same, always a source of assurance. 

Andrew Trimble arrives Andrew Trimble makes that familiar walk into Kingspan Stadium. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Only on this occasion the routine was slightly different. There were nerves, the sort you get before any leap into the unknown, but Andrew Trimble wasn’t stepping out onto the pitch, carrying the expectations of a province, and easing that worry with the substance of a performance and result, but beginning the next chapter of his life. That, in itself, was the scary part.

No more than four months had passed since the 33-year-old had made the last of his record 229 Ulster appearances, bringing the curtain came down on the remarkable career of an outstanding servant to both the province and Ireland. In that sense, it was all still quite raw.

Trimble had made peace with his retirement over the summer months and derived huge enjoyment from the time he was able to spend with his wife and two young kids, but a return to Ravenhill was always going to evoke memories. Mostly in a good way, but it’s never plain-sailing.

“I always thought I’d be one of those players who once they finished, I would go from player to supporter and would have no issues going along to the games,” he tells The42

The thing was Trimble, in his new punditry role for Premier Sports, wasn’t in the stands as a fan, with friends and family. He was back at the ground for work, experiencing those same pre-match jitters from a different perspective, all the while longing to rewind the years to be back in the changing room, and back in white.

“Being a pundit at the game has made it more difficult,” he continues. “Had I been just a supporter at the game and just enjoyed it with a couple of mates or whatever, then I don’t think I would have had it an issue at all.

“The fact I was nervous, similar to 13 season’s worth of matchday jitters and butterflies. I was nervous about a new gig and being out of my comfort zone but that’s all well and good when you’re playing, that nervous matchday feeling, but you get to go and play and get rid of that feeling.

“It was the first time I felt I would have loved to have been in there, I would have loved to have been in the changing room, I would have loved to be part of that win. I had the build-up, the nervous matchday build-up, and I felt like I wanted to share that with someone, but couldn’t as I wasn’t part of the changing room anymore.”

The game Trimble speaks of was the opening fixture of Ulster’s Guinness Pro14 season, against Scarlets a couple of weekends ago, and the new gig being part of Premier Sports’ coverage of the province this season.

While his first night in the job went well and Trimble came across as articulate, confident and knowledgeable in the extreme, it was only after the match, and when the adrenaline rush of appearing on camera had died down, that the emotion of it all dawned on him. 

Andrew Trimble Trimble is Ulster's record appearance maker. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

On his way home in the car, that same journey he had made countless times down through the 13 years, was when the doubts reverberated and he realised that he missed it all more than he thought or had let himself.

“It was the first time I thought I would have loved to be in the changing room and sharing that [winning feeling] with a few of the boys.

“It was more in the car on the way home, I had a couple of wee moments that I just thought I was a little bit sad that that part of my life, which meant so much to me for so long, is gone. There’s just a wee pang of I would love to be experiencing this in the same way as I did. You miss it, of course you do. 

“The match build-up was great. I loved seeing a few familiar faces that I hadn’t seen in a while but it was only afterwards when I had a moment, I thought I really miss this and that was the first time I had really missed being a rugby player.

“Up until then, I’ve been 100% certain and glad about what I’m doing. I’m keeping myself busy, I’m not having the stress of game day, I’m not having the stress of performance, or training, or putting my body through things I don’t really want to be doing and up until that, I was 100% loving retirement but that was the first wee moment I thought ‘I miss this’ and that’s hard to accept.

“I just felt like I missed it. It was nothing dramatic or anything over the top, but just a wee moment of realisation this has been my life for so long and now that it’s not, there are parts of it I miss.”

Trimble, however, takes solace and great pride from the way he consistently rebounded from setbacks throughout his career, namely a series of injury comebacks, as he won 70 Ireland caps between 2005 and 2017, helping Joe Schmidt’s side claim the 2014 Six Nations title.

As well as hanging up his boots as Ulster’s record appearance maker, the Coleraine native scored 77 tries for his province and in addition to featuring at two World Cups, was part of the Ireland side which claimed a maiden Test win over New Zealand in Chicago in November 2016.

“There were moments when I thought I’d never get 70 caps, I would have never been part of the team that beat the All Blacks, never would have won the Six Nations or being capped more times than Ulster than anyone else,” he says.

“These are all things I’m really, really proud of and I feel like I’ve done it and ticked a box. That one area of my life I’ve been very successful in and very proud of what I’ve accomplished and although I’m delighted with that, I want to move on and be successful in the next area of my life.

“It’s not all easy and all straightforward, you don’t just turn up and play 70 times for Ireland. You’ve got to slog it, you’ve got tough times, difficult times, injuries, setbacks and being dropped more times than I can remember. It’s toil and its’s tough but the fact I dug in and got through it and got to a stage where I’m really proud of what I accomplished is nice.

Andrew Trimble with his Wife Anna, son Jack and daughter Molly Trimble with his wife Anna, son Jack and daughter Molly. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I look forward to my wee fella or wee girl when they’re a little bit older and they can appreciate what I’ve done and I can talk to them about it. I don’t think it’s a case of sitting down and going through it all at once after retirement, it sinks in gradually. There are moments I think about it and I’m very proud of what I’ve done.” 

But life moves on, and in the months after his retirement, Trimble has eased himself into the transitionary period by taking the position with Premier Sport, but also seeking other opportunities across different areas. Most importantly, however, has been the time he has been able to devote to his young family.

“Even in the short time since I’ve retired, I’ve really got used to being at home a lot more. My wife and kids have got used to me being at home a bit more and I’m absolutely loving that.

“Even this morning… On a matchday I was always a weirdo, because my mind was always pre-occupied with the performance that was expected of me that evening and even today I went out for breakfast with my wife and kid and just had a really nice time despite one or two tantrums.

“It was a nice change up from my playing career when matchday for me was just stressful. I found it painful and difficult to cope with.

“Just really loving not having that thing — that expectation to perform — hanging over me. I never really got used to it, I coped with it slightly better towards the end of my career but generally it always hung over me — what’s expected of me from coaches, team-mates, press and I found that a stress. It’s 100% something I don’t miss at all, but, as I say, I do miss enjoying a win with your best mates.”

That was then, and this is now. 

The offer to join Premier Sports’ team for the broadcaster’s inaugural season of Pro14 coverage didn’t require much thought as it presented him with an instant route back into the game. 

“I did have a little bit of hesitation at first because all the guys that I’ve played with, their opinions mean more to me than most opinions,” he explains.

Andrew Trimble In his new role with Premier Sports. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I just wanted to make sure I didn’t compromise my relationship with a lot of those guys, but the more I thought about it the more I thought you have to take opportunities whenever they arise and this is a really good one.

“It’s a little bit more difficult than I was expecting. I wasn’t expecting it to be easy, but I notice when I watch a game back, I actually miss quite a lot of things.

“Even last week, I don’t know how many times I said ‘we’ and at one stage I held the microphone away from my mouth and I was shouting and cheering for Henry Speight as he was running down the wing. I just have to get away from that and it won’t happen overnight. I had the producer in my ear saying ‘can we please be a little more objective’ so that’s a bit of a work on for me. 

“That’s a habit of a lifetime, speaking about ‘we’ and ‘us’ and ‘our’ set-piece but again that’s a challenge, trying to be as good as I can be.”

A habit of a lifetime, and Trimble will continue to make that same journey and walk into Ravenhill for a while yet. His role is just different now, and he’s coming to terms with that.

“Whatever I do, I want to do well. I want to continue to be myself.” 

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Ryan Bailey

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