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How new dad Andrew Trimble wants to make a big impact on and off the pitch

In an exclusive interview, Ulster and Ireland rugby star and Oxfam ambassador Andrew Trimble tells Stephanie Bell how he admires Tyson Fury's sporting prowess, his regret at missing tomorrow's Sports Personality of the Year bash, what becoming a dad has brought to his life, and why he swapped theology for finance.

Published 19/12/2015

Ulster and Ireland rugby star Andrew Trimble at home in south Belfast with his wife Anna and six-month-old son Jack
Ulster and Ireland rugby star Andrew Trimble at home in south Belfast with his wife Anna and six-month-old son Jack
Andrew in his role as Oxfam Ireland Ambassador with Micah Campbell and Lucy Campbell
Andrew Trimble

As he looks forward to his first Christmas with his baby son Jack, Ulster and Ireland rugby star Andrew Trimble is reflecting on an eventful year both on and off the pitch. As well as becoming a dad for the first time, the province's most capped player has made a magnificent comeback to the sport after nine months on the sidelines because of injury.

It meant missing out on Ireland's World Cup campaign, but last week's try-scoring performance against Toulouse saw him back to his best.

As the squad flies to France this weekend for their return fixture against the French side in the Champions Cup, Trimble is confident his fitness is finally back to where he wants it to be.

Being in Toulouse for tomorrow's match does mean missing out on his home city's big moment when a glittering array of the world's top sports stars will descend on Belfast for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards.

Trimble was in Glasgow for the event last year and knows it is a very special night. This year, the awards have been embroiled in controversy over Tyson Fury's nomination for Sports Personality of the Year amid calls for him to be dropped because of offensive comments on women and gay people.

Trimble steered clear of the row, but he said: "As much as Tyson Fury has been caught in controversy, you have to appreciate his fight, the way he dressed as Batman, and that going into it no one expected that result. What he did was still very impressive."

He added he had the greatest respect for the achievements of all the finalists, but if he had to support one for the winner there is no surprise that he is backing fellow rugby star Kevin Sinfield.

The third favourite for the title, Sinfield would be the first rugby league player to pick up the accolade if he wins tomorrow night.

Trimble said he had considerable admiration and respect for the sportsman.

He added: "Kevin played rugby league for 19 years and then moved to rugby union.

"At 36, to make that move to what is a completely different sport, is a big ask. And to still be hungry for it at 36 is really impressive.

"The awards is an unbelievable occasion and it is great to have it in Belfast and to have the chance to show the city off to so many big stars.

"I was there last year in Glasgow and it was unbelievable and, of course, Lewis Hamilton lifted the award, and I was disappointed for Rory McIlroy.

"We will be in France playing Toulouse tomorrow and I will be sorry to miss it."

A former pupil of Coleraine Academical Institution, Trimble's rugby career started in his teens when he competed in the Ulster Schools Rugby Cup.

As well as playing for Ulster Rugby, he also plays for Ireland and has been a regular star on the field in World Cup tournaments and Six Nations championships.

He is married to Anna (28), a GP, and in July the couple, who live in Belfast, had little Jack.

As we caught up with Andrew this week, he and Anna were taking Jack on his first visit to Santa and then shopping for some surprises for their son for Christmas Day.

He said: "Jack is six months now and it's great fun. We've just been to Toys R Us to get him a couple of Christmas presents and he was laughing his head off at an Iggle Piggle toy from In The Night Garden.

"Having Jack gives us a little bit more to think about this Christmas, and it is special, although he is a bit young yet to know what it is all about.

"I think Anna and I will be getting enthusiastic on his behalf.

"He just laughs and smiles all the time. It's great."

As well as becoming a dad this year, Andrew has taken on the responsibility of being an ambassador for the charity Oxfam and has also started a Master's degree in finance at Queen's University.

After school he studied physics at Queen's but dropped out and, much to the surprise of his family, decided to study theology at Belfast Bible College.

He is well-known for his strong faith in God and studied theology out of interest for the subject rather than with any career in mind. Andrew confessed that he found the course a struggle and felt much more comfortable with figures.

He hopes that his study of finance will be something which he eventually will be able to combine with his new role as an ambassador for Oxfam in Ireland.

He said: "Theology was something I was interested in, but when I studied it I wasn't thinking of it career-wise.

"I had to work very hard to get okay marks, but finance is more suited to me as I am better at numbers than words.

"I hope that it opens up potentially something I could use with Oxfam, maybe in developing economics, or maybe it will provide an opportunity to have something at home in the financial sector, I am not sure yet.

"I am 31 now and people come out of school knowing exactly what they want to do. I've kept my options open as much as possible."

For the time being, he has no plans to hang up his rugby boots and in fact hopes to continue to play at the very top level for several years to come. He is signed until 2017, when he hopes to be offered another three or four-year contract.

He said: "I think after that maybe it will become more of a struggle, and I don't want to keep playing to the point where I am not able to kick a ball about the garden with Jack."

He has wholeheartedly embraced his new role with Oxfam and this Christmas is heading the charity's campaign to help families in emergencies and extreme poverty across the world.

Oxfam branches right across Northern Ireland are offering Unwrapped gifts which will provide lifesaving emergency aid to families. Trimble had wanted to partner with a charity for some time, and at the Rugby Players Association dinner last summer was introduced to the CEO of Oxfam, Jim Clarken.

He explained: "He knew I was keen to get involved and we swapped details. He contacted me shortly after the dinner.

"I just felt that I wanted to help wherever I could and be useful. Jim arranged for me to meet the rest of the group and I was really taken by them all and their enthusiasm. As much as I was lacking ideas for how I could help, they had lots of ideas.

"I suppose maybe having a public profile I felt that I wanted to use it to try and have an impact and be able to help a charity.

"I found the Oxfam team really creative and I liked what they were doing."

His first high-profile campaign on behalf of Oxfam has seen him urge the public to consider an Oxfam Unwrapped gift this Christmas on behalf of people suffering hardship throughout the world.

One of the gifts is called Care for a Baby, which helps Oxfam provide lifesaving emergency aid to families, from the youngest member to the oldest, assisting them in surviving crisis situations by providing food, clean water, shelter and sanitation.

Another gift is the Unwrapped Cooking Stove which, because it uses half the wood of traditional stoves, is eco-friendly and fuel-efficient.

Andrew said: "Oxfam's emergency workers give the stoves to families who've lost everything in places like South Sudan, providing people with warmth and a way to cook food.

"Other Unwrapped gifts range from giving girls the opportunity to reach their full potential with the Educate a Girl scheme, through to helping poor farmers thrive through agricultural projects via the Goat and Clutch of Chicks cards."

Trimble said the refugee crisis in particular had struck home with him now that he had a child of his own.

He says the pictures of children fleeing for their lives, and especially the horrific image of a little boy being washed up dead on a beach, resonated with him as a new dad.

He added: "It is one of these things that is going on somewhere else and is out of sight, out of mind, until you see something like that.

"The pictures of that little boy had a big impact on me and my wife, especially having a son now, and I just feel we can all help in small ways. It really does make me want to push the Christmas appeal for Oxfam as much as possible."

Unwrapped gifts are available at your local Oxfam shop as a printed gift card and can also be purchased online at www.oxfamireland.org/unwrapped which also has e-card versions, or over the phone, tel: 0800 0 30 40 55.

Belfast Telegraph

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