Andrew Trimble sets sights on starting for Ireland
It took him a few minutes to realise it but after Andrew Trimble woke up last Sunday, winced at the latest collection of bruises assembled from foreign fields and downloaded his schedule, there it was.
IRELAND TRAINING CAMP ASSEMBLY. LIMERICK.
"Damn," muttered Trimble quietly to himself. If he was feeling paranoid, like many of his provincial colleagues, he'd think that this was the latest attempt to cold-shoulder Ulster.
"I hadn't thought about that!" he laughs.
But then he thinks of the silver cloud. Tom Court would be doing the driving.
"It's more of a trek than it usually is," says Trimble. "It's not ideal. There seem to be a lot more camps in Limerick than in Belfast. We're not surprised at this stage, but I don't think we'll read that much into it!"
The Coleraine boy doesn't mind. A scorching presence in Ulster's second successive qualification for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals filled the car with enough renewed verve to banish the relative disappointment of defeat in Clermont Auvergne.
As he met up with his Irish colleagues on Monday night in Castletroy, he did so as an equal once more. All three leading Irish provinces are in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.
Where once he used to sit outside the conversations of his Leinster and Munster colleagues who would chatter away feverishly about their respective triumphs, now he can stick his chest out and immerse himself in the talk.
"Usually we're focusing on beating Connacht to qualify for the thing," he reflects ruefully.
In some quarters, there remains a school of thought that Ulster's presence on the international team is tokenistic, almost as if positive discrimination pertained.
The southern media's relative dismissal of them effectively enfranchises the mindset.
"That attitude is in the past," he says hopefully. "The sooner we get away from that the better. But we recognise that Leinster and Munster are rated one and two and we're third. That perception is difficult to change and it takes us going to Limerick in a quarter-final and getting a win to change that attitude."
A decade of Ulster failure in Europe hardly helped their cause, though.
Last weekend, before Connacht's surprise win confirmed Ulster's passage to the last eight before a ball was kicked in the Stade Michelin, Trimble bumped into an old pal of his whose face bore the relief that Ulster might get a favour from elsewhere.
The encouragement was well-meaning, but privately it offended Trimble.
"We're fed up of scraping through, just hanging in there, being the third province. As much as we want to get through, we wanted to win in France and get a home quarter-final.
"We're very ambitious. I don't think our mindset had been changed by already qualifying. We want to turn heads, like we did against Leicester. We want to be a team that produces big performances like Munster and Leinster.
"There's a massive change in mindset in the last 12 months. Last year, we had already accomplished goals and it was like we were happy to be there. That was a shame because we could have won that. But we're massively motivated this time around. We want to win the Heineken Cup and winning in Thomond Park is part of that."
That burning desire will switch to Ireland this week. Unfairly, and a bit like Ulster, it has rarely seemed like Trimble fully belonged.
All this despite making his Ireland debut against Australia a mere eight games into his senior career; despite his 41 caps and his 27 years; despite tries in France, New Zealand and against South Africa and despite a role in the centre.
When Ireland's established fliers have been fit, from Horgan and Hickie through to Earls and Fitzgerald, Trimble has remained in the wings, not on them.
He has made a World Cup when Tommy Bowe didn't, deputised for Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll several times when others couldn't.
But when Ireland's Grand Slam moment arrived, Trimble watched frustratedly from the sidelines.
Once more, it seems, he will start for Ireland, against Wales in the Six Nations opener, but only because of another's absence, as O'Driscoll's injury forces one of the back three (presumably Earls) inside.
"I want to start, that will never change," he says. "I'm aware of how competitive it is. I can't control how other guys are playing or how the team is selected.
"All I can do is play well. It's a fairly simple approach for me.
"I'm confident in how I'm playing, I'm really pleased, but I don't want to second-guess anyone and get my hopes up."
The World Cup rematch with Wales is on a Sunday. Unlike Scotland's Euan Murray, who caused quite a flutter with his decision not to play for his country on the Sabbath, Trimble opts not to express his committed Christianity in that way.
Although he devoutly believes that his faith is vastly more important to his rugby career - he often recites Psalm 84 to himself to re-assert his devotion to his God - the two never meet.
When he struggled to deal with his rehabilitation from the serious leg injury last year, Trimble's self-confidence plummeted to desperate levels. An ignorant outsider might question whether or not he might have plundered some spiritual resources from the well of his faith? But religion does not work like an ATM.
"I see them as two separate things," he stresses. "It was tempting for me to think after a couple of bad performances, 'are you really a good player?' It's mind games and you ask yourself stupid questions.
"But I don't know if it's anything to do with faith. If you've a strong faith in God, it has no bearing on whether you're a good rugby player or not.
"I don't see how you could use it. Like it sounds strange to even say that -- use your faith? They're two separate things. I could be a crap rugby player! There are no parallels there at all, no overlap. Maybe for some people, but not for me."
The Irish team are respectful of his beliefs, but he is not immune to the exigencies of group slagging. His conflicting view to Murray has led Donncha O'Callaghan to question whether his is a yellow-pack religion.
Yet he has never forced his views down people's throats. Although not an NFL fan, Paddy Wallace sent him the YouTube video of Tim Tebow when his helmet was mic'd-up.
"It's funny. He's saying we're definitely going to win. It sounds like a faith-influenced thing. I don't really see how that is the case, but then I suppose everybody's faith is unique to them.
"I don't see just because you're a Christian and you believe in God that you're going to win the game. I don't understand that because logically it makes no sense. I mean, surely there's a guy on the losing team who could be thinking the same thing?
"That certainly wouldn't be the way I'd think. I didn't think we had any right to win the game at the weekend just because God told me it was going to be that way."
Just like when we wanted Tom Watson to beat another devout Christian, Stewart Cink, at Turnberry, it wasn't to spite God. We just wanted the underdog to win.
The implication of moral conceit when winners claim the support of God doesn't annoy Trimble too much, rather it amuses him.
"You see people being interviewed after winning the Super Bowl or a major golf championship and they say they want to thank God first of all.
"I don't know if there's anything in that. But I suppose the idea of winning becomes synonymous with God -- and that's not right either."
Trimble's faith in his own ability has nothing to do with religion. Instead, he would prefer to concentrate on more earthly matters for now, with that Welsh grudge match edging ever closer and the opportunity to cast aside a World Cup disappointment.
"Because of the Heineken Cup, everyone has their chests out and we're looking forward to the Six Nations. Hopefully, it can be a memorable championship for us."
And Trimble is intent on becoming an integral part of that challenge.