Tuesday 20 February 2018

Mike Ross: A sporting Christmas

THIS festive season is going to be a special one for Leinster and Ireland prop Mike Ross. Mike and his wife Kimberlee welcomed their first child, Kevin, in February, and the doting new parents can't wait to introduce Kevin to their favourite Christmas traditions.

"We'll be seeing Christmas through a child's eyes again and telling Kevin about Santa," says Mike. "He's crawling and standing up already so he'll be toddling by Christmas Day."

The Rosses will spend Kevin's first Christmas at Mike's family home, a dairy farm in north Cork. Christmas Day in Ballyhooly is a nice opportunity to spend time with Mike's parents, Frank and Patricia, and his younger siblings, Alistair, Matthew and Kathryn.

"We generally get up early in the morning to feed the cows. Then we would go to church and come back and open the presents. During the afternoon, we'd sit in front of the fire and have a chat.

"Mum's a pretty good cook. She'd do a ham, but my wife has brought in a tradition now where we'd have some turkey on Christmas Eve as well."

Mike leaves the kitchen activities to the ladies, but he adds to the festive effort by choosing the tree and decorating it. And this year, there are no rugby matches to dampen the festive mood.

"The last couple of years we've had a game on St Stephen's Day, so you'd only be picking away at the dinner and not able to have a glass of wine. But this year I'll be able to let loose."

It's been a big year for Mike. After the excitement of Kevin's arrival, Mike's highlights were winning the Heineken Cup with Leinster and beating Australia in the World Cup.

"The lowlight was the quarter-final exit," he reflects.

"I'm still annoyed over the way we went out, but you have to move on. My goal for this year is to keep building on the success we've had with Leinster and Ireland.

"We've lost two Magners League finals and I want to put that right. I'm also hoping to go on a family holiday when the season ends."

So what is Mike hoping Santa will bring him? "I'm big into my coffee, so I have my eye on a Nespresso machine. I'd better be on my best behaviour!"

THE blackmail has already begun in Ronan O'Gara's Cork home. The Munster and Ireland out-half and his wife Jessica are using every trick in the book to keep their three little ones on the straight and narrow in the run-up to Christmas, and if that means threatening them with Santa's non-arrival, so be it.

"Anything to make life easier for mum and dad!" Ronan laughs. His twins Rua and Molly (3) and one-year-old son JJ ensure that Christmas is a great family occasion.

"It's really exciting with the three little ones at home. I'm a big traditionalist -- I like the turkey and the Brussels sprouts. We have an Aga at home, which is great, you just stick all the stuff in and it cooks itself. My wife prepares it all and I'll be carving and serving it up."

With a string of important matches just after the 25th, Ronan won't be able to let his hair down altogether. "It's an extremely busy time of year. But that goes with the territory. You'd be surprised just how much enjoyment you'd get out of having a cup of tea!"

Growing up in a house of four boys, Ronan has lots of happy memories of childhood Christmases.

"We'd get black bags of toys with our names on each bag and we'd spend the day going through the toys. We were well looked after.

"My own kids already have the WH Smiths' calendar, and are picking this, that and the other out. But I think it's important to get the balance right, so that they appreciate what they get and they are conscious of not having too much."

The spiritual aspect of the day is not lost, either.

"In our house, there would be an emphasis on the crib and the baby Jesus. We go to Mass every week and on Christmas Day."

Ronan remembers being brought into Cork city to get his first rugby ball in Moss Finn's sports shop.

"It was very exciting. But as a young fella I was into every sport, it wouldn't matter if it was a tennis racket or a golf club I had in my hand. My kids are not into sport yet, just 'Peppa Pig' or 'Fireman Sam'. Sport isn't allowed on the TV -- it has to be cartoons!"

This year has had its highs and lows.

"We had the opportunity to get to a World Cup final, and we failed as a team to take it. But on a personal level it was a good year, and in the year ahead, I just want to make sure that I'm healthy and happy and that the family is healthy and happy. Nothing's more important than that."

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