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Ross Adair: From the rugby scrap heap to the Cricket World Cup

By Liam Heagney
Former Ulster and Jersey player Ross Adair is set to represent Ireland at the T20 Cricket World Cup (Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Here’s a sports comeback story to truly gladden the heart. From the rugby scrap heap to Ireland selection for the upcoming T20 Cricket World Cup in the USA. Ross Adair, take a well-deserved bow. It was January 2019 when RugbyPass originally touched base with the former Ulster player who had fallen on hard times at Jersey and had returned home.

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Degenerative hips had become the bane of his life and with medical insurance inadequate to cover the cost of surgery, he had taken out a £15,000 loan to finance the operations himself in the hope he could resume his rugby career. He had no other option but to go under the knife.

“The pain was almost like a ripping across my abdomen,” he explained at the time. “I’d no idea what was going on. We thought it was a hernia at the start but it wasn’t that. There were hours on an MRI machine. I got my spine checked, got everything checked and everything was fine apart from my hips.

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Antoine Dupont is the GREATEST rugby player EVER – Leinster vs Toulouse reaction

Jim Hamilton and Bernard Jackman react to Toulouse beating Leinster in the final of the Investec Champions Cup and discuss Antoine Dupont who was named player of the match.

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Antoine Dupont is the GREATEST rugby player EVER – Leinster vs Toulouse reaction

Jim Hamilton and Bernard Jackman react to Toulouse beating Leinster in the final of the Investec Champions Cup and discuss Antoine Dupont who was named player of the match.

“It was a lot of money and the eight weeks between the two operations were extremely miserable as well as the weeks on crutches afterwards. The surgeon said it was an absolute war zone, but it needed to be done.”

He finished that interview with a hopeful nod to the future. “It would be interesting – not just for rugby but for all sports – to see if a guy can go back to playing professionally after getting both hips done.” This Adair has successfully achieved but in an entirely different sport than rugby.

Back on his feet, Ballynahinch in the All-Ireland League was where he began the comeback he wished would catapult him back into the paid rugby ranks. It didn’t happen. Despite winning the provincial player of the year award for his form in helping his club secure promotion to the highest league in the land, Ulster A was as good as his comeback got.

Then came the epiphany, a match in Limerick where no sooner had he taken the pitch was he wishing the referee blew for full-time. He’d fallen out of love with rugby and decided to take his cricket a bit more seriously. He flourished and is now set to complete a spectacular renaissance as part of the Ireland squad for this Wednesday’s World Cup opener versus India in New York in front of 34,000. Bravo.

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Before flying across the Atlantic with fours, sixes and wickets on his mind, the 30-year-old pulled up a chair in Holywood to explain a journey that should inspire every sportsperson down on their luck with injury. Adair was well aware of the passage of time since he last spoke with RugbyPass. “It was 1,935 days ago when that story was posted, which is a bit scary,” he began. “But it’s pretty cool now I must admit. All that hard work has paid off, so it’s good.”

So much happened in the meantime, including Jersey, the Championship club that released him when his hips were at their worst, going bust last September. “You feel awful for the guys involved with Jersey and hope they get sorted. Then again, if my hips hadn’t been the way they were I might have still been there and could have been a casualty.

“I probably have a lot to thank my degenerative hips for without really realising it at the time. It’s a cruel sport, a cruel business at times. When that happens, it’s one of those situations where you can feel sorry for yourself and mope around or you can see it as an opportunity to try something else, go and do something else because rugby isn’t the end of the world.

“It’s great when it’s happening and you meet some amazing people. I’ve got friends in Jersey I still speak to. I’ll never regret going down the rugby route. I know people say to me, ‘If you hadn’t played rugby, how far on would you be with your cricket? But I’d never change it if I had to go back and do it again. The things rugby taught me, the friendships. It can be cruel but it’s a great sport.”

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Name one thing that rugby especially taught him. “Probably more the discipline side. I know when I went to Jersey it became a lot more disciplined. At Ulster, I was a kid, 17, 18, 19, and the gym was more of a social event for me. I’d lift a couple of weights, walk around and start talking to people, interrupting their sets.

“It wasn’t until I went to Jersey where I was, ‘This is serious now. You’ve got to put a bit more work in, have to be disciplined. Probably mainly discipline, and I’ve used it in my full-time job and then into my cricket as well. I’m very thankful for the rugby.”

It’s a sport his parents won’t let him forget. Over his shoulder when speaking to RugbyPass was a yesteryear picture on the wall of him in his Ulster kit alongside snaps of younger brother Mark, his Ireland cricket team colleague. “That was my U20s in 2012. This is my parents’ house. They enjoy putting photos of Mark and me up. I feel sorry for the girls; they have their graduation photos but they are well hidden somewhere up in the hall at the front, so I feel bad for them,” he chuckled.

“My rugby career, the way it ended and how short it was, I nearly looked at it as a fail in a way back then and I wanted to prove to myself there was a story there for me. I just had to go and make it work. Like I said, you’ve got a choice. You can attack it or just sit around and feel sorry for yourself – and I didn’t want to be that person.

“I’m sure when I look back in 10 years or whatever it is, I’ll be immensely proud of myself for the rugby, then going through the hip surgeries and making my way in the cricket. I’ve still a long way to go in my cricket, I feel good and cricket is one of those sports where you can play ’til 36, 37. I really want to do that, so I will be trying to work as hard as I can over the next few years.”

What was it like falling out of love with rugby, though? “It was rough back then but I actually look back at it now with a wee smile. Even when I was reading that article I was smiling because without that I wouldn’t be here now.

“It was mad at the time, felt like the worst thing in the world. Looking back at it now, I never thought that dodgy hips would have done me a favour but they definitely have and I’m in a really good place with Ireland cricket and in general.”

His pathway from there to here is inspiring. “I’d come back from surgery, had that season with Ballynahinch where we won 1B, got promoted to 1A, was Ulster club player of the year, played for Ulster A, thought I did good but it just never panned out. When Ulster said, ‘No, there’s nothing here for you’, it was tough to not get a reward.

“There’s no reward in club rugby really unless you’re a young kid moving up the ranks in academies, whatever it is. As a 25, 26-year-old, you’re just looking at playing for fun then and I’d played it since four, so I had 22 years being battered most Saturdays. I had enough but I’m very grateful as that is when I took my cricket a bit more seriously and things ramped up.

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A post shared by Ross Adair (@radair438)

“I’d gone down to Garryowen and wasn’t really enjoying the rugby too much. I was counting down the minutes from when the referee blew his whistle until the game was over and I was like, ‘Right, I’ve got to stop this’. I took a break and was just playing cricket, enjoying it, and then things blew up.

“My first season went quite well and I moved to the club I’m at now, CIYMS. That went well too and then I spoke to the Irish batting coach. I was in and around the Northern Knights stuff, the Emerging Knights, had scored runs and spoke to Gary Wilson at Stormont. I just trust him, love him because there’s no crap with him.

“He will tell you if you can do something and if you can’t. I just asked what the chances were of me playing for Ireland and he was, ‘There’s a chance. It’s small but there’s a chance’. That was it. That was around the summer of 2022 and from then the blinkers were on. I was going to play for Ireland and nothing was going to stop me.”

Adair debuted versus Zimbabwe in January 2023 and when picked up the RugbyPass call the other week, he was just back up north after earning his eighth cap in the Clontarf series versus Pakistan, another of the opponents on Ireland’s World Cup roster in the States.

It was the famed 2005 Ashes series between England and Australia that got him hooked on cricket, but T20 is his preferred format. “The whole vibe around the T20 World Cup is it’s short, explosive, changes up and down, flows and ebbs. A game can turn on its head really fast and that’s why I really enjoy it,” he explained, hoping his World Cup participation would be the clincher enabling him to play cricket as a full-time pro rather than double jobbing.

“There are contract discussions at the minute. The Irish association are working very hard in the background to get us all sorted. Hopefully, in the next couple of weeks, I’ll have signed my contract, that’s if I get one, but that’s the plan and hopefully that will be me for the next few years.

“When I came back from Jersey I got a job. I work with a guy called Darren Costello, doing some property stuff (for Silverwood Property Development), so I was doing the cricket and working nine to five. That was pretty tough to balance but without him and his family, I wouldn’t here now talking to you about playing for Ireland.

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A post shared by Ross Adair (@radair438)

“They were so supportive and any Ireland tour there was, he said, ‘Away you go, enjoy yourself, life is too short. There’s going to be plenty of time for you to sit behind a desk’.”

How does cricket compare to rugby? “Hitting a boundary is a lot better for me than scoring a try. It depends on the importance of a try or how it affects the game but for me, a boundary is definitely right up there. Effectively you’re one-on-one with the bowler but then there are 10 of the other guys in the field around you.

“I know you have got your partner but they are no help to you at the other end. Mentally, cricket is a lot tougher but physically it’s rugby. There are a bit of nerves there. I’d been watching most of the guys that I’m playing against on TV, so it’s all a bit sick.

“You have these superstars running in to bowl at you at 85 to 90 miles an hour and it’s quite cool. It’s a wee bit scary at times, especially when the quicker boys are bowling and they are fizzing one around your face, but it’s pretty cool.

“You obviously do a lot of video stuff, you look at their bowlers, have a look at their batters, their shots, where to put the ball, where not to put the ball to them, so there is a lot of similarities that way with rugby in terms of analysis – and then it’s just all about you on the day.

“You have done work in the nets and you have just got to trust yourself that the work you have done is good enough. I guess that’s the same in rugby as well. You’re repeating these skills over and over again so that when it comes to the game it’s just natural, just habit.

“It’s obviously very different in that you make a mistake in cricket and you could be done for the day, especially at this level you usually get punished pretty hard and that is you done. Whereas you make a mistake in a rugby match you can claw it back over the 80 minutes. In cricket, it’s like you have messed and can’t do anything really to recover that unless you save runs in the field or take a catch. That way it’s quite different.”

Now for his big adventure. “It’s very special going to the World Cup with my brother. I had visions of being at a family barbecue in 20 years and uncle Mark is telling my kids their dad never played for Ireland and he had got 100 caps or whatever he ends up on. I thought I wouldn’t be able to live with that, so I had to go and catch him.”

He has. What a sports comeback story.

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A post shared by Ross Adair (@radair438)

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Ed the Duck 20 days ago

That is one helluva comeback!!! Hats off to the sheer bloody minded determination that must have taken. Hope he goes fantastically well at the T20 wc.

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