In a season unlike any before, new challenges have faced both clubs and players alike. Despite the unique season, Ulster have made continuous steady progress both on and off the field. One of the numerous bright sparks of a positive season so far has been the consistent performances of back row member Nick Timoney.
The campaign so far
Ulster’s league campaign came to an abrupt end on the 6th of March with defeat at home to provincial rivals Leinster which put them out of contention for the Pro 14 final.
Ulster spent 50 minutes of the game competing with 14 men after an Andrew Warwick red card and on two other separate occasions were reduced to 13 after Stuart McCloskey’s and Cormac Izuchukwu’s respective yellow cards.
The result left a sour taste in the mouth for former Leinster academy man Nick Timoney as he feels results this season haven’t matched the performances that Ulster have put in:
“I feel like we’ve won more games than we have in any of the last number of seasons but almost upon last week’s result it seems about worthless now” he said.
“I feel like we’ve been going well for large parts of the season but just haven’t got the rewards for it.”
Ulster haven’t lifted European silverware since the famed 1999 squad clenched the then Heineken Cup after defeating French outfit Colomiers 21-6 at Lansdowne Road. Since that incredible season it has been a tale of the almost men as Ulster have finished runners up in the 2012 Heineken Cup final, the 2013 Pro 12 final and the 2020 Pro 14 final.
Despite the disappointing end to the domestic season, the Challenge Cup tie against Harlequins on the 4th of April presents another opportunity to show how far Ulster have come:
“We’ve definitely got one of the toughest draws given Harlequins form” Timoney said.
“It’s almost the perfect time to take an opportunity to win something but we’d be very sure we’ve a very good chance of going far if not winning [the tournament].”
Life after Leinster
Despite an impressive resume at such a young age, Leinster decided to part ways with the then 19 year-old Dublin native. Despite the obvious disappointment at being released by his home town club, the former Blackrock College captain detailed how he did not at that point have his future set solely on rugby and further how he nearly ended up in France before Ulster came calling:
“In school it was always drilled into you that being a rugby player is an occupation you have for your 20s and maybe early 30s” he said.
“I was maybe guilty of putting more into it than I should have and was going to keep going for it you know. I was going to move to France for a couple of months but then the option to go to Ulster came up and I took that instead.”
For Timoney it was not all about the progression and strides he would make on the pitch but also how he would mature and grow off of it. As a young 20 year-old, leaving his home for good was one of the finest decisions he made:
“I think it was good for me to move out of Dublin, I think even sometimes it’s good for people to move away from where you grew up” he explained.
“You get to see things slightly differently. Just being out of the exact framework you’ve had your whole life was pretty good for me.”
Of course however, the hardnosed ball carrier did find humour in relating to the struggles of living independently for the first time, as he shared a laugh over the first attempted clothes wash after leaving the nest.
His development & the role of Dan McFarland
Since making his debut back in April 2017 against the Cardiff Blues, the former Ireland U20 international is wary that despite his progress there is always a need to consistently improve and mature on the field:
“This season’s been strange, I sort of went from having thought I was maybe there [starting] and then I went through a couple of months were I wasn’t getting any game time and that sort of put things into perspective for me” he said.
“There’s been times in the past where I thought I’ve played well and it’s almost, not fluky. I wasn’t necessarily in control of the things I could change and do as I am now. I feel like now I’ve sort of figured out what I identify fully as, as a player. I think now I’ve a better sense of what I am as a player and what I can add.”
Timoney cites the role his head coach Dan McFarland has played in aiding his development and growth as a player over the last two seasons in particular. He believes that the work the former Scotland assistant has done since arriving at his province back in 2018 has allowed the side a chance to fulfil its potential:
“I think our identity became a lot clearer quickly when he arrived. It’s hard when you have the amount of turnover in coaches in players that we did, sometimes you don’t know who’s coming or going” he commented.
“His ability to get everyone on the same page is what I found most impressive. Just having an emphasis on what things are actually most important to us that makes our team unique over other teams.”
Feature image credit: Belfast Telegraph