Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Warrior Craig Gilroy hoping for hat-trick win at Thomond Park against Munster

Gilroy preparing to torture Munster once more

By Michael Sadlier

There's no better man to have when you're heading to Thomond Park in search of the desired result than Craig Gilroy.

Gilroy rightly acknowledges that having already bagged two wins there for Ulster is no mean feat and also admits that he actually quite likes playing at the much-fabled Limerick ground where he runs out tonight (kick-off 7.35pm and live on BBC2 NI).

The memory of him slaloming his way through what seemed like a thicket of red shirts is still fresh, even though it was back in April 2012, on a day when Ulster stormed Munster's spiritual home with their stunning 22-16 victory in what was the then Heineken Cup quarter-final.

And the 23-year-old was installed at full-back when what was pretty much a shadow Ulster side headed down to play their final regulation PRO12 game at Thomond Park last May and came away with another eye-catching result, winning 19-17.

And while we're on Gilroy's memorable moments at the ground, there was, of course, his hat-trick of tries for an Ireland XV who thumped Fiji 53-0 in November 2012, a week ahead of his full Ireland debut against Argentina in which he also scored, though this time at the Aviva Stadium.

Back then, it looked as if Gilroy's breakthrough would lead to a fairly lengthy run in the international side but injury and loss of form have meant that the recent Test against Georgia brought him only his sixth cap and first appearance in an Ireland shirt since the end of the 2013 Six Nations.

With Ulster, though, he is - ahead of tonight, when he is on the left wing - only eight games shy of his 100th appearance and now getting a run again in the side with Andrew Trimble out for a considerable period of time.

But that's the way it is, when an opening appears you take it and certainly turning out in Limerick holds no great fear for him.

"Back to Thomond, it's a very memorable place," says Gilroy. "I've always enjoyed playing there and I do enjoy playing in Munster and last year I think we were written off before we went down and that was a great win for us.

"It's a big stadium and it can be quite intimidating but at the same time it's a good atmosphere and it's really enjoyable to play in," he says without referring to his two wins down there for Ulster, never mind his Irish hat-trick.

"A lot of the more senior guys would say to me that it was a difficult place to play let alone win but it's fantastic that we're in the position that we can even say that we have won two games there."

Not that the record actually counts for much in the scheme of things - prior to last May Ulster had still been well beaten on their previous two league visits - but it is something useful to add to the mix for those who have tasted success there before and, when small margins matter so much, having that self-belief may indeed boost the visitors' psychological approach tonight.

It also happens to be Ulster's first inter-provincial of the campaign and a game which will probably be that bit feistier than usual as the side who are in third and just two points behind Neil Doak's squad will want to bank a seventh league win.

Gilroy certainly knows what to expect tonight from a fired-up and strong Munster who will want to head back into Europe - where they top Pool One after two games - with another inter-pro scalp to add to Leinster's, which was taken at the start of October.

"Like us they tap into their 16th man so it will be important to not be behind them, especially early on," he said.

"I get on well with a lot of the guys at national camp and it will be good to see them again," he adds without referring to the fact that they will hardly be having much in the way of pleasant chat for the duration of the game.

He also acknowledges that keeping Ulster's winning run intact - they have only one defeat and an opening draw to their names over the eight games played up to tonight - is of primary importance, especially with the PRO12 offering the province their only likely route to achieving success this season, not that he, or anyone else, is openly admitting that Europe is gone.

"It's always important to have that last game as a good one before you go into Europe again," Gilroy says, "and it would be really good to get a good win and a massive confidence boost.

"Having said that, you don't want to rely too much on that and in Europe you really want to start afresh.

"Think of the Leicester game which came after Glasgow, when we had one of our performances of the season, so I think we'll just focus on this competition in the meantime," he adds.

He has three tries in eight games which is pretty respectable but, as a finisher, he hungers after more and particularly so after his Ireland appearance seemed to have placed rather more emphasis on simply building a team performance than allowing Gilroy's dancing feet to dazzle.

"I'd like a few more," he says of this season's try haul.

"I'll hopefully keep pinging away and I feel I'm in a really good place at the minute so I'll just keep at it and keep offering myself coming off my wing and try and get my hands on the ball as much as possible."

As long as the weather is kind he may have his wish granted.

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