Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

McCullough fighting fit

Matt McCullough has more reason than most to look forward the start of the new rugby season.

The Ballymena man packs down at blindside flanker in tonight's Magners League clash with the Ospreys and he is just glad to be back playing rugby after missing the second half of last season due to an injury.

McCullough went under the surgeon's knife for an operation that he could prolong any longer and had to sit and watch as Ulster finish fifth in the league last season.

After a good pre-season McCullough is fighting fit and raring to go.

"It's been a long time since we played Toulouse in France, I'm really looking forward to playing rugby again and being part of the squad," he said.

"Being in a team environment is something I really thrive upon and it is part of my life that I enjoy and feel very privileged to be a part of.

"The thought of going out to play for Ulster against the Ospreys and getting the season off to a good start is very important and is something I'm really looking forward to.

"The injury was something that I had to carry for a long time and has restricted me for almost three years.

" The decision was made that I needed the operation as I wasn't able to maintain my fitness to the level I wanted to. I wasn't able to train hard enough and my performances weren't up to the standard I was happy with and we had to do something.

"It was a risky operation and there were possible complications but I think playing rugby the way I was playing towards Christmas and the New Year last season was something I couldn't cope with. I didn't want to play rugby if it wasn't up to my standards and I didn't want to be struggling with my fitness.

"Despite taking the risk I knew I would be better for it and be able to play the game the way I wanted to play it.

"It was quite exciting to get rid of the pain and the problems I carried for such along time and get back to playing really top class rugby."

Not only will the Ravenhill fans be treated to a new fitter McCullough he will also be moving from the second row where he won four Ireland caps to the back row, but the position change holds no fears.

"I've played European Cup rugby at blindside and I am very excited about playing in the position and I haven't been selected to play there for Ulster as often as I would have liked," he added.

"I've played a lot of rugby at second row but the opportunity is here to play at blindside and I've got to make the most of it.

"I can add an extra line-out option and I have got to show I can be a physical six.

"The best rugby I've played for Ulster has been more like a six than a massive second row.

"I see myself as quite a mobile second row perhaps in the style of a more robust six who plays a slightly tighter game which will hopefully free the likes of Kieron Dawson and Roger Wilson to get round the field and play the ball down because I can just keep my head down and do the hard work."

The Ospreys took Ulster's crown last season but are struggling to defend it having lost their opening two matches and McCullough knows they'll arrive in Belfast looking to kick start their campaign.

"They have played competitive games so they will have shaken of the ring rustiness, we're going to have the supporters and it is a very exciting time to see some of the young players taking there chance," admitted McCullough.

"It's a game everyone in the squad is looking forward to and it could be the start of a very exciting year."

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