Monday 18 December 2017

'I expect them to target me, but I will be ready for it'

David Kelly

David Kelly

He has scored five tries for his country but has yet to win a cap. No, not a quiz question, merely the unusual status of Ireland's latest international debutant, the man upon whose shoulders may rest the scoring responsibility to assist Declan Kidney in saving his job.

Given his record for Ireland thus far, Craig Gilroy cannot but succeed. Nonetheless, it will be three times a charm in terms of collecting the additional privilege of a cap to accompany his donning of the green jersey tomorrow.

If his previous auditions are any guide, Gilroy's presence on the left wing of a potentially scintillating Irish back three is freighted with portentous intention. Last May, he played against the Barbarians and scored twice in a pre-summer tour friendly.

Last week in Limerick, Gilroy went one better, storming home for a hat-trick. The banner under which he starred against Fiji – Ireland XV – may have changed but there was little alteration in the startling level of performance.


Still there was no official cap. And still more doubts surrounded his ability to step up for real.

Those fears were quashed on Tuesday, however, when Declan Kidney decided to plump for the fast-finishing wing with the keen eye for the whitewash.

And so, he will finally get that elusive cap.

"I called my parents and told my mum not to tell anyone," the 21-year-old smiles. "Even though she was going nuts on the phone."

She managed to keep her secret for 24 hours at least. Her son's secret has been out for slightly longer than that.

And, as the news quietly slipped out that Andrew Trimble will tog out for Ulster on Pro12 duty in Treviso this weekend, the sense that this was another indication of Ireland's changing order was also inescapable.

Gilroy's time has been nigh for some while now and the fact that he has already made a "debut" for Ireland – twice – will stand to him.

"The fact that it wasn't a capped match doesn't really make much of a difference to me," he agrees. "I played against the Barbarians and I felt that was my senior Irish debut. No matter what, capped or not, I still love putting the jersey on and playing.

"Obviously I would have liked to tour to New Zealand last summer, but there's only so much I can do on the pitch and that decision was left to the higher powers."

Those higher powers were finally convinced of Gilroy's preparedness this week, in the aftermath of that sparkling Fiji outing when his silky sidesteps and sprinting speed shone.

Nominally a right-wing – as the twitter handle @14cgilroy attests – he played there when scoring the first try in the re-opened Lansdowne Road.

Kidney started him on the left last weekend, though, before swapping with Fergus McFadden at the interval and the coach is clearly unfazed at pitching him into the fray.

"I suppose there's different defence nuances," Kidney explains. "It's a read as much as anything and it's only something you will get by playing there on a regular basis.

"And he has played there quite a bit even though he is just as comfortable on the right wing. That's what stood to him because I think he's reading it all quite well."

A GAA background – with St Paul's in Rory McIlroy's home parish of Holywood – will aid the expected aerial missiles, and his tackling technique, until recently a suspect side to his game, may also be tested.

"In terms of fielding kicks and high balls, I'm pretty comfortable with that," he says breezily. "It would be more the actual positioning for the tackle itself that I've been working on a lot.

"That's something that I have been trying to improve on and I feel a lot more comfortable with it.

"I wouldn't say it was holding me back. I just feel it was an area that need a bit of improvement and I worked hard on it, and it is getting better.

"It's just a case of staying on after training and getting one of your team-mates to run at you or even hold a tackle bag and just practise for a bit extra.

"I'm sure they will target me. It's my first cap, maybe I'm one of the younger guys and they'll maybe see that as a chance to target and maybe put a couple of guys in my channel or put a few high balls up. I expect that and I will be ready for it."

If all this sounds overly confident and assured, well, it's supposed to be. The Irish camp has become accustomed to 'Gilly's' cheerful conviction.

"He's in no way arrogant," demurs Tommy Bowe, himself now a direct competitor at provincial and national level.

"He is very quietly confident. He is very sure of his own ability; he likes to get the ball in his hands. He is very keen to attack players and take people on. It's great; he's a young fella coming through and it's great to feed off his enthusiasm.

"I think he's shown in his last two appearances for Ireland, against the Barbarians and in the Fiji game, that he's played outstandingly well.

"In the way he's trained this week he has looked very sharp. He looks like he is full of confidence.

"I have plenty of advice for him but it's stuff that he's heard a lot with me being back at Ulster.

"There is not too much I can say to him: just keep going in the vein of form he is in."

The old song remains the same; give him the ball and a yard of grass. Taking opportunities has always been Craig Gilroy's aim.

"I just want to get the basics right and if try-scoring chances come, I hope to take those as well."

Nice knowing you have all the answers.

Irish Independent

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