Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Allen out to put down a marker for Ulster

Try that: Rising star Michael Allen runs in Ulster's second try against Treviso last week at Ravenhill

It is an idiom that appears particularly relevant to Ulster's Michael Allen over the past month after the young winger rebounded from severe criticism in the opening games of the season to score three tries in his last two outings.

Against Glasgow, having dropped a pass from Ricky Lutton when he appeared to have an uncontested run to the try line, Allen was lambasted for the error after James Eddie's last-gasp try saw the Scottish visitors escape Ravenhill with a victory.

The 22-year-old admits that he found the level of vitriol surprising during what was a difficult period.

"It was pretty tough following the Glasgow game and it was something that I did take quite hard.

"I was very hard on myself as I normally pride myself on the fact that my catch and pass is very good and nine times out of 10 I would have caught that ball.

"It's definitely not easy, all the Facebook and Twitter abuse, with people saying I don't deserve to wear an Ulster shirt.

"It's part and parcel of professional sport though I suppose and you just have to put it behind you and try to prove people wrong but hopefully I managed to do that against Connacht and then last week against Treviso."

Indeed proving people wrong is exactly what Allen has managed with his last two performances, first with a solid showing and a try in the away win over Connacht and then notching two of Ulster's five touchdowns in last Friday's victory against Treviso at Ravenhill.

That brace against the Italian side saw him receive all the post-match plaudits despite a pair of British and Irish Lions returning to the fold in the shape of Tommy Bowe and Rory Best.

Furthermore, it has ensured Allen keeps hold of the number 11 shirt for tonight's trip to face Ospreys in what he is expecting to be a testing encounter.

"It's going to be very difficult and it's a tough place to go. We played terribly there last year but won and that's something we would probably take again against a team with so many Welsh internationals and Lions players.

"There's no better test than to play against these guys and I'm really excited about it."

With Andrew Trimble returning to action tonight, Craig Gilroy deployed at fullback and Tommy Bowe only absent having just failed to recover from a dead leg picked up last week, Ulster's options on the wing remain plentiful and Allen is all too aware that he must maintain his recent level of performance if he is to keep gaining minutes ahead of a trio of Irish internationals.

He added: "The last two weeks it was a case of my place being on the line and if I didn't perform I was going to be shipped out, simple as that.

"Hopefully now I've managed to put a small bit of doubt in (coach) Mark's (Anscombe) mind when it comes to taking me out but I'll need to keep this up.

"Obviously Craig and Andrew are internationals and Tommy's a Lion so I know it's never going to be easy to get into this team."

In the unlikely event that any added incentive was required to perform, Ulster's Heineken Cup campaign begins next Friday against Premiership champions Leicester, a game in which Allen would relish the opportunity to be involved.

"Playing Leicester next week would be fantastic. Obviously it's hard to leave the other guys out because they have the experience but I'll be trying to put my hand up for a place."

Having already eclipsed his try total from last year, Allen has emerged as the chief contender to be the Ulster youngster that ensconces himself in the squad this season.

If he were to do so, the Ulster Academy graduate would be following in the footsteps of his former Methody teammates Gilroy and Paddy Jackson, as well as the likes of Luke Marshall and Stuart Olding, and he believes the increasing cadre of young talent at Ulster's disposal is an encouraging sign.

"When you see these guys coming through and getting caps for Ireland at 21 or 22, when before you weren't even making your Ulster debut until that time, it gives you a real sense that you can go and do it. It's like it doesn't seem so difficult in your head any more.

"I think it's fantastic and I know there's even more to come through the Ulster Academy and the school system."

For now, however, all the focus is on tonight and the star-studded Ospreys as Allen once again looks to outshine more illustrious counterparts.

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