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Michael Heaney is out to shine and prove his worth

Michael keen to leave an impression as Kiss shuffles Ulster deck

By Michael Sadlier

In a situation which produces only occasional opportunities for Michael Heaney, there are, at least, two moments to savour.

Three weeks back and, right at the death, he was just on the field and yet supplied Andrew Trimble with the assist for that dramatic try at the Scarlets which, with Ian Humphreys adding the conversion, snatched a draw and try bonus from what seemed inevitable defeat on the opening day.

And, last May, an understrength Ulster side went down to Thomond Park and won with his marvellous try – his first for Ulster – putting down a marker for what was to come as the shock result unfolded.

The 23-year-old scrum-half smiles at the memories but isn't one for sitting back and admiring his handiwork, not when you are battling all the time to get some valuable game time, though a chance to play from the outset seems to be very much on the cards for this weekend at Zebre which should see his first start since last season's Munster encounter.

"Yes I was happy with that though I only got about a minute and a half out there," he says of the Scarlets game and his pass to Trimble.

"When you're on the bench you can obviously never really be sure how long you'll get so, when you do, you just have to take the opportunity you have and make the most of it," he adds after having made further substitute appearances in the recent wins over Zebre at home and last week at Cardiff.

And then some reflection on that day at Thomond Park when then squad member James McKinney kicked 14 of Ulster's final total in their attention-grabbing 19-17 result with the remainder being made up by Heaney's cracking try.

"It was a memorable moment for me, you don't come out of Thomond Park with four points too many times. Another performance like that and another win this weekend would be welcomed with open arms," Heaney adds while clearly moving on from the past to the present.

As scrum-halves go he is slight but nippy with a swift pass along with a very useful turn of pace and eye for a gap in much the same guise as his rival Paul Marshall.

He is also a handy kicker as well which all adds to the package though the Belfast Harlequins player doesn't shy away from addressing the reality of his situation, even with Ruan Pienaar injured.

"It can be tough being in the position I'm in at the minute with a world class scrum-half (Pienaar) who naturally starts (when fit) and an Irish international (Paul Marshall) who's also ahead of me at the minute.

"But for me I've just got to stay focused and keep getting better," says the player who spent time at Doncaster Knights before rejoining Ulster in summer 2012.

"I haven't played as much as I would have liked to this season but this is a good opportunity for me," Heaney adds, turning to tomorrow's return game at Zebre.

"I've got to look at this weekend as a big chance to show my worth and try and push for a bench place whenever Ruan is playing."

Yes, but even though Ulster bagged a bonus point win over them two games ago, playing Zebre in their own backyard has more than a look of a banana-skin moment about it.

After all, as Heaney (left) knows from experience, Ulster have had a tough time over in Parma in the PRO12 on their last two visits before escaping with narrow victories.

"We seem to have always struggled over there, but thankfully we have managed to come away with wins over the last few years," he admits.

"We'd like to say we're not going to be complacent going over there but having got a bonus point win against them here it can be tough."

"We have to go over there expecting them to put up a fight and we have to push any complacent thoughts (we might have) to the back of our minds," Heaney added for what is expected to be a considerably altered Ulster side to the one which played in Cardiff last week.

He might well be involved in next month's European Rugby Champions Cup, as Pienaar is in a race against time to make it, but will not entertain such thoughts with so much still to be played before that first round opener at Leicester Tigers on October 18.

"I think we have got to look at the here and now as a team," says the player who is expected to make his 24th Ulster appearance tomorrow, four years after making his senior debut.

"While we're happy at being unbeaten in the season we have only played well in bits.

"We have to look at getting better week on week and if we start to look ahead to Europe now we'd probably creep down the league and that is not what we want to be doing."

He's right of course and his personal ambitions will have to be put on the back-burner with three PRO12 games coming up before anything European takes precedence.

"This weekend we're looking to be more accurate. At home to Zebre we had a few chances we didn't take that would have it a lot easier for ourselves if we'd only taken them," he says before looking at last week.

"And against Cardiff, if we'd taken our chances the scoreline would have been more in our favour, so generally accuracy, being clinical with the ball, defending and our line speed are all areas we need to improve on.

"Hopefully, though, I can show what I'm worth."

Now is the time to be seen.

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