Heineken Cup: McLaughlin is my true inspiration, says Gilroy
Craig Gilroy may have celebrated his 21st birthday as recently as last month, but already the flying winger has guaranteed himself a place in Irish rugby folklore.
The first man ever to score a try at the new Aviva Stadium when he touched down for the cream of the emerging talent from Leinster and Ulster in their rout of Connacht/Munster on August 7, 2010, his Easter Sunday finish against Munster at Thomond Park was another which will be remembered for a very long time to come.
The former Methodist College student, who has represented Ireland at Schools and under-20 levels, must now be viewed as a serious candidate for full international honours in the very near future.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney tends to be conservative in his selections, though occasionally he breaks with convention.
His decision to take Munster scrum-half Conor Murray to the 2011 World Cup was one notable exception to his norm.
One feels that had Gilroy been born Welsh, Warren Gatland would already have blooded him on the big stage. Don’t forget that it was the man who will coach the British and Irish Lions against Australia next year who was bold enough to pitch in youngsters like Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer and Shane Horgan for Ireland debuts.
Given all that has since transpired I think it safe to suggest that most would accept Gatland’s fledglings went on to more than justified the coach’s adage that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. Remember, too, that Friday saw Ulster-bound Tommy Bowe undergo surgery to remove a haematoma which was pressing on a kidney and contributing to an increase in the Monaghan man’s blood pressure.
At the moment it is not known how long he will be sidelined, but it could be up to four months, in which case there will be a vacancy for a winger on Ireland’s three-Test trip to New Zealand in June.
In addition, Bowe’s return to Ravenhill will create a selection dilemma for in-coming coach, Mark Anscombe, for with Andrew Trimble also among the personnel he will inherit when he takes up the reins on June 1 the Kiwi is going to have to handle things very cleverly indeed in order to satisfy requirements of three top-drawer players for whom there are only two starting positions.
Gilroy turned up at the post-match press call on Sunday afternoon and duly took his place at the top table alongside Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin and captain Johann Muller.
His charm, confidence and composure in facing a roomful of journalists said much about the young man’s poise, personality and self-belief.
It also revealed his appreciation of those by whom he is surrounded in this now-maturing Ulster
team. His willingness to publicly acknowledge such things was notable, ditto his exemplary manners and humility.
“It’s an important day for Ulster. Thomond is not an easy place to come and play,” he said, underlining that he grasped the huge significance of the achievement he’d just been involved in.
“We’re just delighted to win,” he added.
“It’s great to have some of the world’s best leaders in the team and to play alongside them is brilliant,” he said, confirming his understanding of the importance of experience in harness with his admiration of the Ulster side’s elder statesmen’s example.
But then came the line which caused even the most seasoned of the hacks to prick up their ears in response to the young man’s honesty. “Brian (McLaughlin) is very important,” he added, at which point you could have heard the proverbial pin drop.
The Ulster coach has entered the final furlongs of a three-year tenure during which he has taken the province from the status of annual Heineken Cup pool-stage fallers through to a place among Europe’s top four now in with the very realistic prospect of a place in the final and a tilt at the crown.
Even in describing his fabulous try the young man pointed to McLaughlin’s influence.
Modestly omitting to mention having skinned Denis Hurley outside before coming in to beat Felix Jones and Simon Zebo, Gilroy recalled: “I saw (Lifeimi) Mafi coming for me.
“It’s strange because I remember Brian explaining to me at the start of the season about ball transfer and fend. That was in my head and I managed to do that and get over.
“He’s been a fantastic coach to us,” Gilroy added.
“He gave me my opportunity just over a year ago in Cardiff.
“He gave me my first cap and he’s had great faith in me.
“Nobody deserves this win more than him.”