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You can prepare, but you'll never be ready for end of career: David Pollock


Chasing down: David Pollock playing against Stade Francais

Chasing down: David Pollock playing against Stade Francais

Matt Williams

Matt Williams

Chasing down: David Pollock playing against Stade Francais

In the early days of 2019, the latest social media trend has been the #TenYearChallenge. By and large, it involves the posting of pictures 10 years apart, usually highlighting nothing more than past poor choices in haircuts or outfits.

But 10 years, it proves at least, is a long time. For further evidence, just ask David Pollock.

In late January 2009, a decade ago this week, he was handed the Ulster armband for the Heineken Cup clash with Stade Francais.

Matt Williams had rested plenty of regulars for the dead-rubber clash and, despite there still being a number of more experienced candidates to lead the side, it was no surprise to see him turn to his industrious young openside.

Pollock was seen as a natural leader, an Irish international in waiting who had captained the Under-20s to a Six Nations Grand Slam two years prior.

That special crop - who had current Ulster boss Dan McFarland as a forwards coach - contained a host of future stars including Cian Healy, Keith Earls, Darren Cave and Felix Jones.

Luke Fitzgerald missed out due to injury, while Sean O'Brien featured in the early rounds before hamstring trouble.

Seven senior internationals in all and anyone who saw them in action would have been sure the squad's skipper would have been one of the first to get his cap.

"It was incredible," he recalled of those early days of his career. "The Under-20s team, that was just a great team to be involved in.

"The quality of player involved there, multiple British Lions when you look back now. Cian (Healy) and Earlsy (Keith Earls) are still playing for Ireland.

"But that Italy game (the Grand Slam clincher) I still remember the nerves. We were so edgy.

"Darren (Cave) made a break and I was on the trail line…knocked it on underneath the posts.

"It could have been one of those days but we got a few tries to get it done, and it's a special memory.

"And then with Ulster, that was what you always dreamed of doing. I'd always had a good relationship with Matt Williams, he had faith in me and played me when I was fit. It was such a great honour to captain the side. It was one of the really proud moments of my life."

Everything was going to plan for Pollock - until it wasn't.

"I still remember it now. I was in London, sat with a physio and the doctor who had performed the operation. I remember hearing him tell me that the hip just wasn't going to stand up to professional sport," he said.

"It was just really hard news to take and that's me as someone who was fortunate enough to have something to go back to.

"Younger guys now are probably getting better advice, and there's a lot more awareness of it which is really good and that all comes down to the individual.

"I think now guys are better prepared for finishing rugby but you can't be ready. Nobody can prepare you for that feeling of the first Monday morning when you're not there any more.

"You're so regimented, you're so structured, you're not making any decisions at all really. And then those structures are removed and you have to find your own.

"You can prepare for your work life, what you're going to do, but there's nothing for that first day when you're not going into the team room, or you're not going into the gym, you're not round all your friends all the time.

"That's the thing that most people find hardest. "

The Omagh native had completed two years of medicine at Queen's before taking up his first pro rugby contract but kept his hand in by studying a degree in anatomy. After a few months of refresher classes, he was able to start his third year the September after being forced to hang up his boots.

"I took five years away essentially," he said. "It wasn't easy going back to study, the routines of revising and bookwork at nights.

"It was funny for me because a lot of the people I had started doing the course with, I'd then be seeing them in hospitals going round as junior doctors working away. Some of them ended up teaching me on rounds. But you settle back in and Queen's were great in holding the place for me.

"I don't regret (putting it on hold) it for a second. I've spoken to a few people recently looking to balance it. But what's the window to know if you're going to make it? Three of four years max? Maybe a bit more as a prop. You'd regret it if you didn't give the game a fair crack and medicine is always something to go back to."

Having done just that, his goal is to become a consultant in radiology but rugby still plays a part in his life.

"You'd be surprised by the number of people who leave Ulster and then are never back as supporters. Maybe it's hard for some but I've always enjoyed it. I was straight back there as a fan pretty much as soon as I retired," he said.

"There's so few players now from when I was there, Rory (Best) and Cavey really. But I would see Mick Ennis the bagman or Nigel Brady the manager on the sideline and it's still always nice to say hello.

"I've three kids (Arthur, 5, Meredith, 3, and Amy, 1) and I've been taking my eldest to some games. He plays mini-rugby at Instonians so I've been helping out a bit with the P1s there too.

"At Kingspan, though, he's still more interested in watching Sparky and seeing where he's going."

Soon enough Dr. Pollock can sit him down and tell his son of the day he captained Ulster.

Belfast Telegraph