Tuesday 25 October 2016

Chart-topper Gilroy eyes Ireland call to ease pain of last-four defeat

Published 24/05/2016 | 02:30

Ulster's Craig Gilroy. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / Sportsfile
Ulster's Craig Gilroy. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / Sportsfile

Craig Gilroy, celebrated for the artful nature of his finishing all season, is struggling to even complete a sentence.

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"I just really thought it was going to be our year..." he trails off.

His status as the Pro12's leading try-scorer might afford him renewed confidence that he may have re-emerged in Joe Schmidt's thoughts for his impending squad announcement for the summer tour to South Africa. But it is arguably the furthest thing from the player's mind following the latest gut-wrenching Ulster submission in their recent torturous play-off rivalry with Leinster.

"It's a nice accolade," he says, referring to his status atop the leading try scorer standings; both Isa Nacewa and Matt Healy, Edinburgh finalists, are tied just one behind on nine each.

"But I'd honestly give up those two tries and be in a Murrayfield final instead."

As for his prospects of making Schmidt's selection, his enthusiasm is tempered by realism; he has been overlooked of late, with keen anxiety within the Irish brains trust that his defence remains a weakness, notwithstanding his dancing feet and finishing prowess.


"I'd love to go to South Africa, of course. Which Irish rugby players doesn't want to play for Ireland? It can be disappointing not being selected.

"I'd be one who tries not to dwell or get too down on myself. I just try to constantly improve and always put my hands up. It's nice to be involved in the camps.

"There are guys who are playing well who aren't there. It's good to be invited down, be involved. It's not up to me, it's up to Joe. Hopefully I've done enough."

Sadly, yet again, Ulster could not.

And there is uncertainty about whether Rory Best, can continue to freight the responsibility of captaining both his club and country; Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell both dismissed the prospect in the past and the hooker may yet seek to restrict his provincial role, too.

"I'm not sure if I'll be back as captain," he admits. "We'll have to reassess. I'll speak to Les Kiss and make a decision."

Kiss admitted that it is something that will be looked at; just not now.

If anything gives Gilroy and his team optimism as they end a trophyless decade, it is the fact the Australian has shown, with Ireland, that he has an idea of what it takes to transform nearly men into winners.

"The future will be bright under him," insists the 25-year-old. "He doesn't just say 'Oh, let's take the positives from it' and move on."

The team's primary focus will be on assessing just how costly a series of slips were during the regular season which, ultimately, cost them the top two finish, which history now firmly insists is a pre-requisite for reaching the final.

"We were hoping to come down here and change the record," said Gilroy as the 13th successive away side succumbed at the penultimate stage.

"But it probably stands like that for a reason because it is so tough. It's the mid-season games, the ones at the start of the season where you have to collect those points.

"You need to win those games, get those points on board. You need to get losing bonus points away from home even when you're targeting the wins.

"They all add up at the end of the season and if you want to go places, pick up silverware, you need to be finishing in top two."

Gilroy may yet finish top of the scoring charts. But forgive him if he doesn't necessarily enjoy the view.

Nacewa all-clear as Kearney returns

Isa Nacewa is expected to be fit to face Connacht in Saturday's Guinness Pro12 final after X-Rays on his injured arm came up clear.

The Leinster captain was forced off during the second half of Friday's semi-final win over Ulster, but is expected to be available, along with Rob Kearney, who is back from his ankle injury, and Fergus McFadden, whose suspension is over.

The province revealed that Sean O'Brien underwent surgery on his hamstring on Saturday, while Johnny Sexton (glute) and Ben Te'o (calf strain) sat out training but are set to be available for Murrayfield.

Meanwhile, South Africa's plans for Ireland's three-Test tour have been hit by news that out-half Elton Jantjies has fractured his finger and needs an operation.

The Lions star has been the form pick of the potential No 10s available to Allister Coetzee with World Cup starter Handre Pollard already ruled out. Patrick Lambie is now firm favourite to start at out-half.

Elsewhere, Ireland's men's Sevens Olympic hopefuls have been drawn in the same pool as World Sevens Series side Samoa in the pool stages of next month's repechage, which is their last chance of reaching Rio de Janeiro.

The women's side's draw for their final qualification opportunity will be established at the final Series event in Clermont this weekend.

Irish Independent

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