SOME athletes love the limelight. Others shun it ostentatiously, playing hard to get as a means of increasing their mystique. Ross Ford prefers a third way.

Scotland’s record male cap-holder, whose retirement from playing was confirmed last week, has genuinely never grasped why what he does might be of interest to the media. Whether playing for the Borders, for Edinburgh, for the national team or even for the British & Irish Lions as he did in 2009, the 35-year-old from Kelso has seen himself as a worker, not an artiste.

The nature of his retirement was testament to that. Scottish Rugby came in for some criticism on social media for the way they handled the announcement, putting out a low-key press release when some of Ford’s admirers felt a lot more should have been made of the occasion. But the man himself would not have it any other way. And in any case, it is not as if he is about to disappear: in his new role as a strength and conditioning coach with the Fosroc Scottish Rugby Academy, he will imbue a new generation of players with the work ethic which stood him in good stead throughout his lengthy playing career.

In a brutally attritional sport, that longevity is remarkable. To grasp just how long he has been around, and how many changes in the game he has seen, you need only cast a glance at the team sheets from his early games.

The first time he was in a matchday squad for the Borders, for example, he was on the bench alongside George Graham and a certain Gregor Townsend. Doddie Weir started at lock that day in September 2003; Gary Armstrong, a Grand Slam winner back in 1990, was at scrum-half.

Those were the players whose careers straddled the amateur and professional eras. By contrast, Ford was aged just 11 when the game went pro, and grew up wanting to make a living from the sport he loved. He pursued his dream single-mindedly, displaying the humility and strength of purpose that would characterise his 16-year career.

“He’s a hardworking guy,” is the verdict of one of his colleagues. “Even over the past couple of seasons, when he’s been 33, 34, he was the guy who was working hardest in the gym, probably.

“He was always one of the players who was affected most by a defeat. It showed how much it meant to him.

“And he’s a humble guy. Very unassuming. He’s always thought he’s been very lucky to be where he is.”

Ford himself insisted as much last week in the press release to mark his retirement. “I’ve been very fortunate,” he said. “I’ve had a long career in the sport and have been able to represent my country at the highest level, playing in a lot of great places around the world. I’ve met some characters along the way and overall just feel very lucky to have played a sport that I love and make a living in the process.

“I never had any specific targets in mind. It [reaching 110 caps] just kind of crept up on me. I recognise it as a big achievement, but it’s just something that came hand in hand with playing the sport.

“Mossy [Chris Paterson] got over 100 and Sean [Lamont] is up over 100 as well. I never set out to get a certain number or beat them. I just kept playing because I was enjoying it.”

Perhaps there is always an element of good fortune involved when a rugby player keeps going for quite so long without suffering a career-ending injury, but on the whole Ford’s success is down to himself. He was a back-row forward at first, and when told he should switch to hooker to maximise his potential he threw himself wholeheartedly into learning his new role.

One hundred and ten caps later, not to mention nearly 200 appearances for Edinburgh and 84 for the Borders, it would be fair to say he has made a success of it. Even long after he might have been thought too old to learn new tricks, he kept improving: some of his best performances for Scotland, for instance, came very late in his career, when he added extra mobility and energy to his always formidable strength.

Perhaps the only time Ford’s humility counted against him was in 2012 when he took over the captaincy of Scotland. He was always good at leading by example, but never seemed wholly at ease as a figurehead. Some thought him too laidback. In reality, it may well have been another instance of his dislike of being the centre of attention.