Andrew Trimble ready to be a leading man for Ulster
Ahead of his return to action, skipper says fatherhood has helped prepare him for new role as Ulster captain
As Queen's University's newest students attend their first weeks of classes, Ulster's captain Andrew Trimble has found himself wondering how they do it.
Back when he was 18, just three seasons away from making the first appearance of an Ulster career that will surely see him retire as the province's most capped player, the immediate future was clearly mapped.
This, he says, was the product of "taking rugby seriously" from an early age, as no other career path appealed to the sports-mad Coleraine youngster.
"There was nothing else I wanted to do," he admitted. "There wasn't anything I was as passionate about or enjoyed the way that I enjoyed rugby.
"That's the reason I pushed it so hard. I wanted it to pay off and be a career. Not everyone wants to be a professional, and rugby still has a lot to offer below professional level, but for me it was all I could ever imagine doing."
Now nearing his 32nd birthday, the 66-times capped Irish international finally feels comfortable looking towards what he'll do for the remainder of his working days.
Speaking to promote Queen's Rugby Fest, an event which takes place tomorrow and culminates in the varsity game against Ulster University, Trimble, who is now studying finance having previously dabbled in physics and theology, said: "I don't understand how kids can decide what they want to do at uni when they're 17. I was 30 before I worked out what I might be good at.
"I've been at Queen's almost 10 years or something. It took me seven years to do my undergrad and now I'm halfway through the Masters.
"It's something I'm interested in. Everything seems rubbish compared to playing rugby to be honest, but it's something I can get my teeth into and quite enjoy. I've always been better at numbers than words I suppose."
In years gone by the winger joked that his plans for a post-rugby career involved donning Ulster's mascot costume, but the new focus on the future comes just 15 months after he became a father for the first time. Trimble and wife Anna, a doctor who he wed in 2009, had baby Jack back in July of 2015 with the erstwhile Ballymena clubman continuing to enjoy fatherhood.
"It's brilliant now because he's at such a good stage. He's really good craic all the time, just playing with everything. There's no hassle at all either, he eats well, he sleeps well, no problems. I'm hoping he just stays like this forever. I've been told we're only six months away from tantrums."
Almost suddenly he finds himself as one of the senior members of the Ulster panel, a position within the squad that was rewarded when Les Kiss chose him as one of two successors to Rory Best as skipper of the Kingspan outfit.
Trimble, who remembers looking up to captain David Humphreys when he first came into the set-up, admits he feels a changed man in recent years.
"I think I've just become a grown up," he said. "Getting married, having a baby, studying finance...it's all very adult, isn't it?
"I feel very different now at Ulster. I've just became aware of how big a responsibility it is to be captain at a place like this.
"You carry every performance around with you all week and I can see now why the coaches are so stressed. You feel this extra layer of ownership. You're responsible for things that you never even thought about in the past."
Out with a toe injury during the early weeks of this season - unconnected to the ligament issue that kept him out of the game for 10 months and indirectly caused him to miss the last World Cup - Trimble is far from enjoying his extended summer holiday.
He was back in full training last week but came up just short in his efforts to take on Ospreys with this Friday's derby clash against Connacht the new target.
"You get your break on holidays but as soon as that's passed you want to be in there and getting work done," he said. "So it's frustrating now. I felt fit as a fiddle coming off tour with Ireland in June.
"Now I wouldn't be as fit in my lungs and legs as I'd like to be but that's only going to come with games.
"We'll see how we go. I'm really exited to get back."
The wait is almost over.