Life on the treadmill isn’t really conducive for too much in the way of introspection.
Sure, there is downtime due to injuries and rehab but, leaving the unwanted yet inevitable knocks and surgeries aside, there is virtually always something to be done in terms of pre-match preparation, post-match recovery or monitoring nutrition.
As for contract negotiations, they are something else entirely but, ideally, only come up once in a while. Besides, that’s how agents earn their keep in terms of thrashing things out and putting your name out there should it be time to move on.
So bearing all that in mind, it’s not necessarily that much of a surprise when you put it to Stuart McCloskey that he hits 30 this summer only to be told that, in the scheme of things, this milestone hasn’t really featured yet on his radar.
“I haven’t thought about it much,” said the long-serving centre well known for winning hard yardage and putting others in space.
“Yes, I’m 29 now and signed for another three years and (when that deal is up) I still think I’ll have it in me to play a bit longer, but then who knows?”
His thought pattern is built around the current contract rather than bidding a longing farewell to his 20s, never mind confronting the elephant in the locker room: that he will be entering those final few years in the pro game when thoughts, naturally, stray to what may come next.
But reflections on life outside rugby can still be parked as McCloskey plans to very much stay on that treadmill.
After all, he still feels there is unfinished business with Ireland where he has witnessed the rise of James Hume, who has essentially overtaken both him and Chris Farrell in Andy Farrell’s bigger picture.
Six caps since 2015’s Six Nations might suggest that McCloskey’s time at Test level has perhaps been and gone, but he, naturally, reckons he has more to give international rugby, never mind what he is planning to still achieve at Ulster nine years after breaking through as a raw-boned but immensely powerful inside centre.
“(In terms of) personal goals, I’d like to get back in there (with Ireland) for the next World Cup and obviously try to get as many caps here at Ulster,” said McCloskey, who plays his 149th game tonight when he lines out beside Hume against Cardiff.
“And I know 150 (appearances) is coming up for Ulster and touch wood I’ll push on and get as many as I can.”
He also mentions Ireland’s summer tour to New Zealand as a target if all goes well though, again, being part of that should Garry Ringrose, Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw and Hume all be available could be quite tricky unless Farrell wishes to have another look at McCloskey’s combination of physicality and skill.
Staying fit and very much on the treadmill will be vital should his Test hopes come to fruition having not featured for Ireland since last summer’s series when he scored in the 71-10 annihilation of the USA.
And, so far, this season has been a bit too stop-start for the Bangor native’s liking, thanks to some ill-timed hamstring damage which has impacted on him twice already during the campaign.
“It was two completely separate things,” he explained.
“The first one (at the start of the season and suffered in training) was real niggly and it felt like I could have played that week and it ended up being three weeks (out).
“But the second one (in December against Northampton Saints), it took the momentum out a bit.
“At the time, I thought we were going really well as a team, not that there was any effect with me not being there as I think we won every missed game apart from that Munster one away.
“On a personal note, it’s crap (being out).
“You miss out on those games which count towards selection for Six Nations and then there was (the question of) keeping my form.”
Indeed, his performances had been consistently good until he broke down that December evening against the Saints.
“I’m getting there, I’m pretty much there now. I was struggling there for the last couple of games but I still thought it went alright,” he added.
“So I’ll hopefully keep on towards the end of the year.”
After coming back in January against Connacht, and then playing last time out at the storm-lashed Rodney Parade, McCloskey is obviously keen to get more game time in his legs and assist Ulster in their drive towards a top-two finish in the URC, ahead of the play-offs, as well as wanting to leave his mark in next month’s round of 16 European home and away ties against the mighty Toulouse.
The starting point is tonight’s URC meeting with Cardiff when Ulster will be chasing a sixth consecutive victory in all competitions and a chance to return to the top of the league table at Leinster’s expense ahead of the outcome of the southern province’s clash at Benetton.
Normally there would be plenty of footage available on the opposition, but the Blues have not played competitively since the end of January and have had a disrupted schedule due to Covid issues and, most recently, Storm Eunice wiping out their fixture against Zebre.
It’s a reasonable point, but McCloskey brushes off the notion that there is any significant gap in knowledge when it comes to plotting victory over Cardiff.
“There’s a decent amount there,” he said of footage on the opposition who managed to get the better of Leinster in their last match at the end of January.
“They haven’t played that much (this season) but they play the way they’ve played for a while and I know what those players are like.
“Guys like centres (Rey) Lee-Lo and (Willis) Halaholo and they have played a certain way for a while so I’ll know what to expect from them.”
And with that, it’s back to work. The treadmill awaits him.