| 19.3°C Belfast

Former Ulster player Ricky Andrew on Valencia life in strict lockdown

 

Close

Ricky Andrew left Ulster in 2015.

Ricky Andrew left Ulster in 2015.

©INPHO/Presseye/William Cherry

Ricky Andrew left Ulster in 2015.

Valencia in lockdown. A once vibrant city, where the culture is orientated to being outdoors, is now an eerie place struggling with Spain's stringent restrictions.

Ricky Andrew's day is evolving in its usual way since draconian measures were introduced in mid-March to tackle the frightening grip coronavirus had on the country.

The former Ulster player and his wife India, who also hails from the province, can only leave their apartment to acquire food or something from the pharmacy. Even exercising their dog Margot can be problematic.

"It's not like back home as we're in complete lockdown," says the 30-year-old from Ballymena, who has been playing and coaching at the CAU Valencia club for three years.

"I've been stopped by the police already for being too far away from the house when walking the dog.

"You're meant to just take the dog down, get it to do its business and get back to your house - it's fairly strict."

In this environment you have to be creative and while Andrew is busy keeping in constant touch with the CAU squad and lower age grade players over staying safe and active he has also found a way to take some, albeit limited, exercise.

A large shared garage runs underneath Andrew's apartment building and here, along with dog Margot, he can find space to do some running.

"The garage is shared with three apartment blocks," explains the utility back, who played over 20 times for Ulster between 2011 and 2015.

"It's quite long and I can get to top speed going for about 50 metres or so. I take the dog down. As long as it's empty and the police don't come in, it's absolutely fine and provides a wee bit of space where I can at least do something."

Even though Spain is moving towards relaxing elements of its measures, such as allowing children outside for short walks, there is still some way to travel towards anything close to normality.

"The only thing that can be done is to stay in," says Andrew, whose younger brother John is still part of the Ulster squad, though notably, at club level, the presence of older sibling Joel meant that all three played together for Ballymena in the AIL.

Close

Ricky Andrew after a match with CAU Valencia.

Ricky Andrew after a match with CAU Valencia.

Ricky Andrew after a match with CAU Valencia.

 

"But the issue here is that Spanish people are not used to being in their homes. Many of them live in apartment complexes and tend to rarely be home because they are out in the streets, taking exercise or just hanging around the cafes.

"As you can imagine, a lot of them are now really bored and just don't know what to do indoors."

"I'm happy enough working away at home and planning (for the club) and getting things done around the place," adds Andrew, who has a degree in Spanish and French from Queen's University.

The couple opted not to return to Northern Ireland when it became obvious that the virus was going to result in extensive restrictions on movement.

"We reckoned," says Andrew, "that we could have potentially been exposed to coronavirus and taken it back and spread it to our family or others, so we thought we'd just stay here and stick it out."

Both are well settled in the eastern Spanish city and intend to stay on - the couple married there last summer - with Andrew busy with the club where he has had notable success with the senior side but also coaches teams from under-sixes level. India, meanwhile, is teaching English while on a career break as a physiotherapist.

Andrew, who finished his professional playing career at Nottingham in 2016, has been sending out videos encouraging his young players to stay active.

"The hard thing is that while in Northern Ireland people live in houses and probably have a garden and a bit of space, as well as most kids having a ball, here it's a completely different scenario, with most living in apartments," he says. "Most don't have rugby balls, but what could you do with one inside anyway?

"We're sending out little videos of things they can do without a rugby ball, like teaching them how to juggle and also getting them to pass a toilet roll so it hits the door and stuff like that."

His moving to Valencia - he had nearly ended up in Barcelona prior to this - came as an unexpected opportunity after Andrew had returned to Northern Ireland from Nottingham and was playing and coaching at Rainey Old Boys as well as helping out at his former school Ballymena Academy.

His love of playing, coaching and travel - he had earlier enjoyed a spell at Castres in France when an Ulster Academy player - as well as being able to speak the language meant it was an offer he couldn't really turn down.

It's all a far cry, however, from how Andrew departed Ulster in 2015.

"With the final season at Ulster, I was mentally gone," he recalls, which was the polar opposite to how he had felt at the end of the previous campaign.

"I remember the then coach Mark Anscombe said to me 'I want you here, I want you to stay'. He said he wanted to keep working with me and as a player that's just fantastic to hear.

"He'd been great for me. I wouldn't have been a very confident person, especially with my skills or in myself as a rugby player, but he let me play and worked through things with me.

"Then, suddenly, the first day of pre-season (in 2014) and he's fired. It was a shock, but my confidence was still high and I really enjoyed the two pre-season games we had."

But then, with Louis Ludik on the books and Neil Doak installed as head coach, Andrew found himself very much on the outside and it took a heavy toll.

Close

In action for Ulster Ravens during a final season that brought significant frustrations.

In action for Ulster Ravens during a final season that brought significant frustrations.

©INPHO/Presseye/Stephen Hamilto

In action for Ulster Ravens during a final season that brought significant frustrations.

 

"I remember being in training sessions and thinking, 'I need to do more work here'. I was doing double gym sessions and skills and so on," he explains. "I was just breaking down and crying following pitch sessions and being like, 'There's nothing I can do here to play'.

"I was completely out of favour and in my final season I think I only got about two senior games.

"I really didn't know if I wanted to play professional rugby.

"What was the point? I played because I enjoyed it, but now I wasn't enjoying it, so I wondered if I should keep playing."

Younger brother John encouraged him to look elsewhere, which is when Nottingham came in, allowing him to depart in the summer of 2015 for what proved to be a largely dissatisfying season.

Still, he needed to go through that to get the pro game out of his system and, since then, pretty much everything has been on an upward curve, even with Valencia still in lockdown and the garage beckoning him again.

Belfast Telegraph