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Andrew Trimble believes the Ireland rugby team has helped both sides of the political divide in Northern Ireland to become more familiar with the other.

Trimble had a long and successful career with both Ulster and Ireland, making over 200 appearances for his province and winning 70 caps for Ireland over a period of 13 years.

The former rugby player is a committed Christian and comes from a Protestant background, although he does not strongly identify with unionism, as many may assume of someone in his position.

Trimble was speaking at the launch of the Zurich Irish Rugby Players Awards and explained how rugby has helped to familiarise those from unionist and nationalist backgrounds with one another.

Andrew Trimble on the effect of rugby on identities in Northern Ireland.

“I think yes, a lot of unionists support the Ireland rugby team. But a lot of people who would be kind of middle of the road wouldn’t like to polarise or fall either side of the fence. They would have a more nuanced political identity,” Trimble explained.

“They would support the Irish rugby team as well. I think the assumption is that if you come from a Protestant upbringing or background that you are a unionist and I think it’s a little bit more complicated than that.

“There’s a lot more familiarity and there’s a lot more identity involved in that all-Ireland understanding of different perspectives. I think that’s where, for me, rugby provided that.

“For someone else it could be music or art or whatever it is. But for me I was very lucky I had that exposure and I have a real strong connection to the south as a result. I think that’s the case for a lot of people in a similar boat to myself.”

‘They would never voice that opinion to me because they know it wouldn’t be well received.’

There are of course still hardline unionists in Northern Ireland that would strongly identify as British and not as Irish, although Trimble believes that they are now in the minority.

Rugby fans in Northern Ireland support both Ulster and Ireland the vast majority of the time, and while Trimble believes that there may be some out there who just support the province and not the national team, he hasn’t interacted with any.

“I’m sure they exist but not really. Certainly I haven’t had that many conversations with them. They would never voice that opinion to me anyways because they know it wouldn’t really be well received. I think that’s in the minority,” Trimble said.

“I think I see that a lot of the more marginalised opinions are increasingly in the minority. It makes more sense for us to talk about the majority, which is that growing middle ground and growing unique perspective which has a slightly more appreciative view of north and south and more of a balanced understanding, I think.”

Andrew Trimble on Rory Best’s coaching career.

Trimble played alongside some world class players for both Ulster and Ireland, none more so than his former captain for both province and country, Rory Best.

Best had become involved in coaching since he retired from playing, having acted as a technical and high-performance skills coach for American Major League Rugby side the Seattle Seawolves, as well as fulfilling the duties of Fiji’s forwards coach for their three tests this autumn.

The former Ireland skipper was involved with Fiji on a short-term basis, as their usual coaching staff didn’t travel to Europe due to covid-19 restrictions, but it will have acted as a very valuable month to Best and his burgeoning coaching career.

Trimble reckons Best has all the attributes to thrive as a coach and was confident that he will get a long-term opportunity soon.

“I always knew that he would get involved in the Fijian set-up,” Trimble joked.

“I know Rory very well, being with him as he progressed through being a senior player and captain. He ran the place at Ulster. He does have those really strong leadership abilities. He’s very detailed and very articulate and explains himself very well.

“I imagine he’ll transfer that very well into a coaching environment. So I think he will ultimately get an opportunity to kick on and get something more long-term. No doubt he’ll thrive, he’s got all the attributes.”

Pictured are former rugby players and podcast hosts, Andrew Trimble and Barry Murphy who, today, were announced as hosts of this year’s Zurich Irish Rugby Players Awards. The 2021 Zurich Irish Rugby Awards will take place on Friday December 3rd via Facebook Live on the Rugby Players Ireland Facebook page. This year, nine awards will be handed out, including the prestigious Zurich Irish Men’s Player of the Year Award and Zurich Women’s Player of the Year Award

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