Trimble reaches double-century with designs on claiming more silverware
At least one thing is certain. Tomorrow afternoon against Munster, when Andrew Trimble becomes the first player to make 200 appearances for Ulster, it will be rather different from the day he completed his first century for the province.
In a season already eventful in terms of statistical achievement, with Trimble overtaking Paddy Wallace's previous appearance record by hitting the 190 mark in early October, it seems appropriate to reflect on how things went back in 2010 when he achieved the 100-cap landmark.
It came late in the season in an encounter with Edinburgh and, back then, Ulster were in an arm-wrestle with Connacht to ensure European qualification, which they managed to do by racking up a bonus-point win in Scotland. All great, but the now 31-year-old's face creases in a smile at the memory of his own experience and, well, its lack of acknowledgement.
"I remember getting my 100th cap but no-one else remembered, nothing happened," he laughed. "We'd bonus-pointed Edinburgh. We were sitting watching TV (afterwards) and I'd ice on my knee and I was in a room with Niall O'Connor and I was like, 'Niall, that was my 100th game and no-one has remembered'. It reminds me of when I was 20 years old when I was on a development contract and we had to meet on the pitch for the team photo. I forgot all about it and didn't turn up and again nobody even noticed. I was glad I never got in trouble for that but disappointed that no-one cared."
He knows much more fuss will be made of him tomorrow ahead of the Munster clash and so soon too after that record 190th appearance against Treviso when he was granted the honour of leading the team out. The same is about to happen again as he reaches that 200th game which, as things have worked out, will also be in front of the Kingspan crowd.
"Rory (Best) was slagging me as he thought I wasn't going to be playing against Connacht last week and then it (the 200th) would had been away to Oyonnax," Trimble said. "Hopefully Rory doesn't leave me hanging (out on the pitch) as long as Rob (Herring) did (against Treviso), but it will be special. This is a big occasion, it's an interpro here and it's going to be packed out."
The Ireland international was in the mood to reminisce on his lengthy career which has seen him become the third highest try scorer in the league's history with 43, though he considerably trails Tim Visser on 58 and a certain Tommy Bowe on 62.
And with reaching a second century - which would have been earlier but for his season-ending toe injury in October 2014 - Trimble admits that making it there has been something he has been pondering for a while. "In my head I was thinking of setting a potential target for a few guys to chase and maybe Rory (Best), Roger (Wilson) or Darren (Cave) will overtake it," he said. "But probably all of us will be overtaken by Craig Gilroy or some other young fellow coming through who will play more games if injury-free.
"But no matter what happens I'll be the first person to get 200 and that will never change and that is something that I am very proud of."
His debut now seems like a world away but he does recall that day in early September 2005 at the Arms Park in Cardiff and that his first outing did lead to a positive outcome - Ulster won 25-22. "I didn't really have much involvement, but I remember Tommy (Bowe) scoring a nice try. Now the two of us are washed up old men trying to keep up with the younger guys," he laughs.
But that first season just can't be entirely left behind as Trimble was there the following May when Ulster dramatically triumphed at the Ospreys, with David Humphreys striking the winning drop goal via the posts, to walk off with the Celtic League trophy. Naturally, Trimble never thought those scenes of celebration at the Liberty Stadium would yet to be repeated nearly a decade on and Ulster's silverware drought has caused him much gut-wrenching disappointment.
"Every time we went out (in that first season) I don't think I appreciated how fortunate I was to have that culture and that environment," he said. "And every time we went out we knew we were going to win, the last game of the season against the Ospreys with the drop goal, (to me) it never seemed like we weren't going to win the game or the league."
The exuberance of that first campaign in an Ulster shirt is long gone and replaced by a much more stoic outlook though always with the hope that things are about to change for the better. "We just dropped off a cliff and had to start rebuilding and recreating that environment again. We have done that but it has taken a long time," he added. "I want to make sure we win something in the next year or two and, of course, to do that you have to go and win big games like this one on Saturday afternoon."
He could have left, just like so many others did, but stuck it out and a special moment, and reward for his dedication, is now at hand. Quite an ovation awaits and, ultimately, Trimble's place on the Ulster Legends' Wall is assured.
Ulster (v Munster) - L Ludik; A Trimble, L Marshall, S McCloskey, R Scholes; P Jackson, R Pienaar; K McCall, R Best (capt), W Herbst; L Stevenson, F van der Merwe; R Diack, C Henry, N Williams. Reps: R Herring, C Black, R Lutton, A O'Connor, R Wilson, P Marshall, I Humphreys, S Arnold.