Stuart McCloskey: Ulster centre adjusting to life without the familiar rugby structures

Summer rugby would be great - McCloskey

Like most athletes, Ulster centre Stuart McCloskey appreciates the need for perspective in such unsettling times.

A Six Nations, a Pro14 and a European Champions Cup indefinitely cut short are mere inconveniences in the bigger picture.

"Everyone enjoys sport when it's on, it's something that takes your mind off the world," McCloskey says.

"But I think we can all put it on the backburner for a few months."

At this point an athlete's role is no different to that of the average member of society, obligated to sacrifice their everyday routine and do what is asked of them to fight back against the spread of Covid-19.

It is an unusual situation for everyone, and for McCloskey it is an abrupt departure from the structure that has dictated his schedule for the past six years.

"We don't realise how structured everything is for us," McCloskey says.

"I go in for breakfast and lunch most days of the week and there's a goal at the end of the week.

"You work through the week to get to Saturday and play the game, that's what my mind is always focussed on."

In the absence of a familiar set-up, McCloskey is getting used to life in a different structure, dictated by his eight-week old son.

"It's went a bit from famine to feast," explains McCloskey, who was part of Ireland's Six Nations squad during the first two months of the year.

"I didn't really see him much when I was down in camp for four weeks but now I'm back I'm with him every hour of the day and it's been great."

'I've heard it could be October, but I've also heard June, July'

With no timeline, it is only natural that thoughts will also turn to questions over when, and how, things might return to something resembling normality.

Ulster remain, for now, very much in the hunt in both domestic and European competition, however uncertainty over how the tournaments may reach a conclusion has overshadowed any silverware aspirations.

The Pro14 final set for Cardiff on 20 June has been cancelled while European competition has been postponed, although organisers say they remain committed to finding a way to complete the season.

Stuart McCloskey
McCloskey has been a regular in Ulster's first team since 2014

"I have heard things where we might not be back until October, and I've heard that we might be back in June or July," says McCloskey.

"I think that's the toughest thing, trying to keep your mind fresh.

"If it is coming back in July I want to be fit for that, but I also don't want to be over-training in the house by myself for five months if it gets that far.

"Summer rugby would be great, a few of the boys have been pushing that for years so they'd be happy enough.

"If it meant that we play end of June, July, August, took a week off and then got onto next season, which I think is the best case scenario at the minute anyway, I'd be happy with that and I think most of the guys would be happy to do that."

Maintaining social distancing and a team environment

The unscheduled halting of the season has also presented players with the challenge of maintaining a reasonable level of fitness while abiding by the 'lockdown' and social distancing measures.

"It'll be about trying to stay fit with all the restrictions on being around other people," says McCloskey

"I've taken a few bits and pieces home from the Ulster gym and hopefully I'll be able to use that.

"We stopped at the start of last week, we were told not to come back in and take whatever gym equipment we needed to make do over the next few weeks.

"Whether that's doing some runs yourself. I have a watt bike in the house and some guys have rowing machines."

Ulster players
Ulster's players are remaining in regular communication despite being unable to train together

And, while the players are unable to gather together in person, McCloskey has highlighted the importance of maintaining a strong team dynamic through the troubling times.

"There's a 'quaranteam' group that has been set-up, and there's lots of pieces going into it trying to keep everyone involved.

"There are wee challenges every day, and it's just trying to keep it a bit light-hearted."

A situation far from ideal for Ulster and rugby teams across Europe, but as McCloskey recognises, there is no arguing that for now sport must remain firmly on the backburner.

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