Trimble eager to soar after putting faith in mended wings
For an athlete to finally break free from the ravages of injury, it is as if the doors of perception are being joyfully flung open. For Ulster's flying winger Andrew Trimble, that moment finally arrived last Saturday, erasing two years of mental and physical anguish.
Reaching the other side can be the making of a player. Brian O'Driscoll confided exclusively in these pages more than a year ago how a blistering, pain-free break in the Heineken Cup against Edinburgh rid him of the twin shackles of troublesome injury and psychological weakness.
When Trimble launched himself like an Exocet from his own 22 at the Rec -- slaloming through the Ulster defence with a Klammer-like keenness, before accelerating beyond the startled defence -- it was the moment he could finally declare himself free of the demons that had dogged him for so long.
O'Driscoll spoke of the trust he now had to invest in his once battered and bruised bones, the new messages he now had to transmit from brain to body. Trimble immediately recognises the traits.
"Yeah, yeah, that's exactly it," says the figure who seems far brighter than the morose persona who seemed so beat up this time 12 months ago.
"I made the initial break and then I looked to my left to Tom Court who, I'm embarrassed to say, was keeping up with me!
"He was screaming for the ball. I think maybe this time last year I would have given it to him but, as you say, the new confidence in my own ability, I just wanted to take the guy on and then it sort of opened up. Fortunately, I got the try."
It's sometimes easy to forget that Trimble was once the golden boy of Irish rugby, the one who went to the World Cup ahead of future Lion Tommy Bowe, the one who would spend a Six Nations as Gordon D'Arcy's competent understudy alongside O'Driscoll.
After a series of injuries to leg and hernia, a long-lasting groin problem ultimately forced Ulster team doctor Mike Webb to suggest shock therapy on the knee tendon.
"Not having the power in my legs that I used to have was really giving me a hard time and I was really finding it difficult to impose my game in matches," Trimble continues. "That's something that sort of snowballed a little bit into a lack of confidence. One thing led to another and I just wanted to get it sorted out."
Ulster's irreversible slide under Matt Williams had also clearly knocked his confidence for six last year. When he did return to reasonable fitness, he then watched with a strange confection of pride and jealousy as his team-mates completed Ireland's greatest ever season.
"It was really difficult actually," the 25-year-old says quietly. "I think back to previous years when I was selected more often than not for Ireland. Then to go from that to a barren period, to not really being anywhere near selection to be honest.
"If I had been selected, I would have been very surprised. So to go from that high to a nothing season was really disappointing. Whenever you do get selected, you maybe take it for granted and that's maybe what I did.
"Last year, I got the hunger back and wanted to get myself sorted. I just realised how much it meant to me. I just wanted to put that hard work in and I was delighted that it is starting to pay off.
"It was frustrating watching the guys do so well but at the same time, I never really thought or expected to be selected. I never felt that because I just wasn't playing well enough. At the same time I was maybe doubting whether I was good enough even if I was playing well.
"I remember sitting watching the Wales game and watching Tommy running in the try and being really, really delighted for him, really pleased and a small bit jealous."
Doubt was his enemy and he needed someone with trust to defy his inner demons. Ulster's rehabilitation under home-grown coaches helped; Declan Kidney's counsel during the November internationals guided him over the remaining rumble strips.
"I think at a couple of stages I did doubt, I wasn't sure -- and that phase could have kept going -- I didn't know if I would ever put on a green jersey again," he confesses. "Fortunately, I got the monkey off my back against Fiji for 10 minutes which I was just unbelievably excited about.
"I was just buzzing running around the pitch, like a child on Christmas Day. It just means so much to me and I want to get back in there."
For a man whose Christian beliefs remain such a vitally important aspect of his everyday life, there was perhaps a sense of symmetry when Kidney invested so much faith in Trimble's nascent recovery to full health.
"He definitely showed faith in me," says the Coleraine man with the impressive strike-rate of eight tries in 25 appearances. "I think Declan is very fair, he tells you exactly how it is. If you're playing well, he picks you, if you're not playing well, he doesn't. I've been on one end of that outcome and I'd love to get to the other end."
With Luke Fitzgerald now the luckless one on the sidelines, a wing berth is vacant. Ireland's defence coach Les Kiss reminded us this week that Keith Earls is the current incumbent -- although he also alluded to Trimble's "impressive form" -- but the Munster man predominantly plies his provincial trade in the centre. Trimble could be the man.
"It's brilliant to see him back and really the try at the weekend announced that he was back on the scene again," says his old friend Bowe. "He's had a great season after a tough two years, knee and groin and whatever else. I know he found it very difficult and it's great now to see him back, back playing with confidence."
And it's good to see Trimble bubbling, sheepishly accepting Bowe's jibes that the new haircut is suspiciously close to that of strength and conditioning coach Paul Pook.
"It's like being back in school whenever you feel you are strong and big and just love to get to training, you love contact sessions," adds Trimble. "That's the way I'm feeling at the minute, just really loving the rough and tumble. I'm like a child, really loving it. I have had to develop other aspects of my game and that's maybe one of the good things I can take out of what happened."
It seems like all his prayers have been answered.