When and how did you get started with rugby?
I started when I was 6 at my local club, Antrim RFC playing mini rugby there. My dad played there towards the end of his career and he brought me down and I was hooked from day 1 and have never looked back.
What keeps you motivated?
The fact I got into professional rugby so late, I was 26 before I got offered my first contract by Ulster so I guess the fact that I had a very different route into the pro game makes me appreciate it a lot more as I know the slog that goes into being a club player whilst holding down a job. There is also a lot I want to achieve at Ulster, it is where I am from. I am playing for my home club so to win something in an Ulster Jersey would mean the world. I have also had a small taste of International recognition with the Emerging Ireland team over the last 2 summers so the chance to represent my country is a big motivating factor as well.
What’s your training routine?
Monday – Whole Body Strength
- Heavy Squats
- Bench Press
- Bench Pull
- Shoulder Press
Tuesday – Leg Power and Upper Body Hypertrophy
- Concentric Squats for Power
- Volume training for the upper body
Wednesday –Recovery and Core
Thursday – Whole Body Strength
- Heavy Squats
- Bench Press
- Bench Pull
- Shoulder Press
During the season it is hard to make huge gains, so the pre season is a very important time for adding some weight to the bar then work to maintain it during the season.
If you had to choose one exercise per body part, what would they be and why?
Back Squat – The king of all exercises, works the whole body, requires good technique and develops strength and power in the legs, glutes, core and upper back.
Deadlift – Similar to the back squat in that it works the whole body. These 2 compound exercises are critical if you want to make it as a front 5 player.
Upper Body – Bench Press, Shoulder Press and lots of Rows and Pulls – it is difficult to build a big press if you do not have the stability in the upper back and lats for doing lots of pulls
What’s your typical daily diet like? Does it change in the pre-season compared to in-season?
Pre season has a high training load, there are 2 or 3 sessions most days so a big breakfast is key. I have some weetabix or fruit and fibre, a bagel and a coffee. Its hard to eat a big lunch because there is usually a tough fitness session to come so just some simple carbs and some meat and veg is good for lunch. A dinner would be similar to lunch except a larger portion.
During the season I don’t really have a particular diet, there are just certain types of food I try to limit or avoid completely. Sugary drinks, junk food, fast food etc is no use apart from the odd cheat meal after a big win!
Do you use supplements? If so, what and why?
On mornings when I gym first thing I usually have a BCAA, Protein and Milk shake with my breakfast and then a similar shake after the session, this is to help reduce muscle pain and to help with recovery and repair of the muscles. There has been a big push this season to not rely on supplements and try and as much nutrients as possible from real food rather than powders, so we have lots of fruit, milk, yoghurt, oats and green tea before, during and after gym.
I find BCAAs and Leucine really help with reducing muscle pain and fatigue…they taste disgusting but ive found them to work the best.
What’s your pre-match music?
I don’t really have anything in particular, I have a playlist with about 50 songs on it, all upbeat and fast paced, and I have a few that remind me of family and mates, the people that I play for.
Whats your preparation like before a game?
Home and Away games are very different, I almost find it easier to prepare for the away games because we are in the hotel all day before the game, we have set meal times, the food is prepared for us and its all very relaxed, there is no stressing about getting stuck in traffic on my way to the game.
For Home games we only meet about 75 mins before kick off, so there is a lot of time at home, trying to prepare mentally, going over plays and lineouts, doing a little bit of research into opposition especially the prop I’m up against. It take me about 30 mins to drive to Ravenhill so I sometimes get a bit worried that I’m going to miss kickoff if I sit in traffic for more than a few minutes!!
Once at the ground, I have a set routine, I get changed into my warm up kit as soon as I can, go out and check out the ground, read the program, boots on and go out and do my individual warm up.
Best moment in your rugby career?
Winning against Leinster at the RDS on my first start stands out as an incredible moment for me. I was kind of thrown in at the deep end because we had a few injuries and I’m sure a few people were worried about me going up against Cian Healy who was just about to be named on the Lions squad. I was very nervous but having Rory Best and Tom Court alongside me really helped and I went out and put in a performance which I look back on with a lot of pride. I only lasted 60 minutes but I loved every second and the face we won makes it all the sweeter to look back on.
Most challenging match you have played in?
Against Leinster at the RDS again, this time a year on from my first start, in the Rabo Semi Final, I was only just recovering from a toe injury I picked up a few weeks before, was lacking a bit of match fitness, and just came up against a Leinster scrum who had a real point to prove. I look back on that much with very different memories to the one a year before, I was really struggling but we dug in and only just lost. It was a bitter pill to swallow.
Have you had any low points in your career? If so, how did you overcome it/them?
Losing the Varsity match in 2009 was very tough, I knew it was my last match for Oxford, my 3rd blue and a whole years preparation just went down the drain, it was very tough. I didnt play any rugby for a month after that game, I just couldnt be bothered. Eventually I had a word with myself and got back into it and went out to Australia and played a season in Perth, and I vowed never to let myself get that down over a rugby match again, there have been tough times since but that experience stands me in good stead and I’m definitely a lot mentally tougher and more resilient for it.
Any final tips and advice for anyone looking to improve their rugby performance?
Conditioning is key, the teams and players that go the extra mile and put in the hard yards are invariably the ones still going in the 79th minute. I’m not a naturally fit person so I have to work very hard to stay in any sort of shape.
My other advice would be never be too proud or think you’re too good to take advice, there are always new things to learn, new techniques, never stop growing and learning and keep evolving as a player, and work hard and stick it, the big break will come!!