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Time is up for Trimble but he leaves a legacy of excellence

 

By Jonathan Bradley

They say that Father Time is undefeated but, after all Andrew Trimble has come back from throughout his career, you'd almost suspected he could be the first to weather the blows and come out the other side still fighting.

For all his talents, there are few more resilient to have worn the white jersey in recent years and, even over the last few months when he has found it increasingly tough to break his way into the side's match-day squads, you still wondered if there was perhaps one final renaissance left.

It seemed the winger, who emerged on the scene for Ulster in 2005 and went on to break the province's appearance record, was first written off when still in his early 20s. But time and time again he came back to show his true worth.

A testament to that is the fact that he hangs up the boots with 70 international caps when not so long ago he seemed destined to be frustratingly all out for 49. He had mysteriously fallen out of favour with Declan Kidney coming towards the end of the Grand Slam-winning coach's tenure, earning just one cap in the Munster man's last year in the top job. Written off in many circles, Trimble always knew he could recapture a green jersey.

Known for a quirky sense of humour, he maintained it throughout the frustrating times in his career, joking later that all he had needed to get back into Ireland's good graces was to have a kidney removed. Sure enough, once the coaching regime changed, so too did his international fortunes.

He would win his 50th cap against Canada in the summer of 2013, sparking yet another comeback that this time brought with it the best season of his career as he helped Ireland to the Six Nations in Joe Schmidt's first campaign.

Scoring three tries in the five games, including an oh so vital score in the clincher in Paris, he was voted Ireland's Player of the Year in 2014.

After such highs, injuries would cruelly intervene, ultimately leaving him as the unluckiest man in Ireland when the World Cup squad was announced in 2015, but those that thought we'd seen the last of him were turning a blind eye to history.

Having missed out on the tournament, he battled back once again, starting 11 of Ireland's next 12 Tests. There were still injuries to contend with, his first game of the 2016/17 season delayed until Ulster's trip to Bordeaux in October. Having not played for four months, the French side's Nans Ducuing was the man who felt the full force of his frustrations as he was driven backwards and into the turf. Curiously for a man who has scored more tries than any other in an Ulster jersey, this was trademark Trimble.

A month later he'd be doing the same thing to New Zealand's Julian Savea, the rib-tickler forcing the opposing winger nicknamed 'The Bus' to fling the ball into touch and help seal Ireland's historic first win over the All Blacks. That, in the end, would finally be his last big moment in green.

He'd come a long way since making his Ulster debut as a teenager, when even then he seemed just a little bit different.

If his physique seemed tailor-made for the modern-day wing, his personality was hardly the product of a rugby-player cookie cutter. Raised in Coleraine, and with a strong Christian faith, even as a youngster he was something of an atypical rugby sort, albeit one who had dreamed of playing the game for Ireland from a young age. He would always say what he thought and thought what he said, usually with a quick wit too.

That was on show again in the recent win over Ospreys when, finding himself again outside the match-day 23, he joked with the BBC in a pitchside interview that he was just being given regular rest.

At 33, and with a year left on his deal, he could have welcomed that rest and collected his cheques for a further 12 months, but wasting time has never been his way.

Having first studied at the theological college, he's long been an advocate of planning for the rugby afterlife and recently completed a Masters in Finance at Queen's. With two young children, and having always given the impression of being quite the doting father in recent years, more time for family will no doubt be a bonus of whatever he does next.

One hopes he gets a fitting farewell in front of Kingspan Stadium before it comes time for all that. Few have done more, more often, to earn one.

Five moments of winged wonder

Off to a flying start

Ulster v Edinburgh, Celtic League (16/09/2005): Fresh-faced Trimble, still toying with the idea of being a centre, was making his first senior outing at Ravenhill when he scored his first Ulster try. It would prove to be the first of many. In his first season, the man who would write his name all over the province’s record books, picked up a league winner’s medal.

Solo effort was so special

Bath v Ulster, Heineken Cup (23/01/2010): Simon Danielli had made the initial ground but there was still so much to do when Trimble picked up the ball only steps outside his own ‘22’. At one point he looked for support, but finding only the side’s loosehead prop Tom Court had managed to keep up, he backed himself, finishing off a fine solo score that took him almost the length and breadth of the pitch.

Answered Ireland’s call

France v Ireland, Six Nations (15/03/2014): Having began Joe Schmidt’s first Six Nations in the starting side, Trimble had a point to prove after something of an Ireland exile under Declan Kidney. He did that and then some, scoring three tries in the championship, the last of which came in Paris and helped seal the title.

Three and easy in rout

Ulster v Connacht, Pro12 (11/04/2014): They may not have won any silverware, but arguably the best Ulster side Trimble played on was the squad of 2014. The group were still digesting getting knocked out of the Heineken Cup quarter-finals at home to Saracens a week before when they took their frustrations out on Connacht in mid April. Trimble was front and centre, bagging the only hat-trick of his career.

Irish Black magic

Ireland v New Zealand, November Test (05/11/2016): Trimble didn’t get on the scoresheet out in Chicago but still made an impression on one of Ireland’s greatest days, his big hit on Julian Savea leaving the huge All Black picking himself up and making sure all his parts were still connected on a never to be forgotten occasion for the Irish players and fans.

Andrew Trimble factfile

Born: October 20, 1984

Birthplace: Coleraine

Ulster debut: v Cardiff Blues, September 2005

Ulster caps: 229

Ulster tries: 77

Ireland debut: v Australia, November 2005

Ireland caps: 70

Ireland tries: 17

Six Nations caps: 32

Six Nations tries: 7

World Cup appearances: 7

World Cup tries: 2

Career honours: Ulster’s record appearance holder, 2006 Celtic League winner, 2014 Six Nations winner, Irish Rugby Writers’ Player of the Year 2014.

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