Tuesday 21 November 2017

Gilroy determined to seize second chance and restart his Ireland career

Ireland hopeful Craig Gilroy. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ireland hopeful Craig Gilroy. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

It is three-and-a-half years since a fresh-faced Craig Gilroy fizzed on to the Ireland scene with a brilliant try against Argentina and appeared to announce himself as an international star.

A week previously, he scored a hat-trick in a non-cap international against Fiji including a length-of-the-field effort and when the Six Nations rolled around he was the starting No 14.

Yesterday, the Bangor, Co Down native sat by the pool at Ireland's team hotel in Cape Town and contemplated where things had gone off track.

If he features against South Africa on Saturday, which seems more likely after he was presented for media duty yesterday, the 25-year-old will win his seventh cap at Newlands.

Injury didn't help, but there has always been a sense that the Ulster ace finisher didn't quite tick the boxes that Joe Schmidt looks for in his wingers.

He faces plenty of competition for a place on the wing, but he also offers so much in terms of pace, power and finishing ability.

And, although he wasn't selected in the initial touring squad, he is hoping to make the most of this opportunity to impress the New Zealander.

"I haven't played since Georgia (in 2014) and everyone wants to have played more, but the competition in my position is vast and you just to have to be that little better, have those one per centres to play international rugby for Ireland," he reflected.

"Right now I've put my head down and worked hard these last couple of seasons, and I feel like I'm getting the rewards for that.

"It was slightly disappointing (not to make the initial squad), but it's international rugby and it's a massive standard with a lot of competition especially if you look in my position.

"But, you're always one or two injuries away and that's the case for me. I didn't have any holidays booked thankfully. I looked down at my phone and had a missed call from Joe and I phoned him back right away.

"He called me into camp, I wasn't sure if I was touring or just down for the mini-camp before we left, but then he let me know I was going and I thanked him for the opportunity.

"Obviously, I was beaming from ear to ear on the inside while trying to keep a straight face and be professional about it."

Gilroy is fully aware of what Schmidt is looking for in his wingers and believes he has improved in the necessary areas as he attempts to tick the boxes demanded of him.

"It's good, it means it will round off our game," he said of the demands from the head coach.

"I hope to be able to do the stuff that I can do to maybe bring a little bit of X factor and give Joe what he wants as well on top of that.

"He's big in the air. He wants good aerial skills, something I've been working hard on back with the province.

"He wants stuff at the breakdown, stuff like that, not just someone who's going to stand on the wing and wait for the ball, and try and do the fancy work; more of an all-round game."

Not being involved in the World Cup or Six Nations meant that Gilroy was Ulster's second most used player this season after South African lock Franco van der Merwe and he made the most of his minutes, finishing joint-top of the Guinness Pro12 try-scoring charts for the second successive season.

It's been a long campaign, but he's happy with his fitness. "On a personal level, I'm happy with how it finished; I'm happy with how I went. I'm injury-free, I still feel fresh despite it being a long season and I'm buzzing to get on this tour and looking forward to it," he said.

For a host of players, this tour is a window of opportunity and none more so than Gilroy who has a chance to resurrect his Ireland ambitions after a few years in the wilderness.

Irish Independent

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