Gilroy: I'm back for Ulster and stronger than ever
Ulster's Ireland international wing, Craig Gilroy has some very good news for the Ravenhill faithful ahead of tomorrow night's RaboDirect PRO12 date with Italian guests, Benetton Treviso.
"I've spent the past three or four months working on my strength and conditioning," the 22-year-old speed merchant said.
"I'm stronger now, I've got a bit bigger and I'm faster than I've ever been before."
A troublesome groin injury, which proved to be worse than was at first thought, confined him to dry dock for five months, costing him his place on Ireland's summer trip to America and Canada.
"I was gutted about missing that," he admitted.
Rather than self-pity, his reaction was one of determination to make the most of things, apply himself to what was required and accept the help on hand from a back-up team committed to his well-being.
To his credit, having sought to see a silver lining to the cloud, he appears to have found one.
"My time out has been a blessing in disguise for me," Gilroy said.
"I think you just have to take all of the positives you can out of an injury.
"Yes, there can be dark days when it messes with your head, but I just kept my head down and had a really good pre-season.
"I'm just glad to be where I am now. I've got an expert medical team with me and the coaches are helping me out, too, by just looking after me and making sure that everything is going okay, so it's great."
His return to action came in Galway when David McIlwaine's withdrawal at half-time of Saturday night's 18-7 hard-fought win against Connacht provided him with the opportunity to make his first outing since April 12.
"I felt really good on Saturday night. No problems," was his assessment following his 40-minute work-out against the western province.
"I was excited about playing again. And nervous – really nervous – beforehand, because it just felt like forever since I'd played. But once I stepped on the pitch, it just felt normal again.
"That was my first match since the home game against Dragons last season. That's a long time out."
He did not particularly enjoy watching from the stand in the closing stages of 2012-13 and the opening rounds of the recently-started new season.
"It's hard watching when things aren't going right and you feel you'd maybe be able to do something to help out if you could play," he revealed.
Despite defeats in each of Ulster's first two games, Gilroy never felt alarm was justifiable.
"It's early days so I don't know why anybody would be panicking," he said matter-of-factly.
"First two we lost, fair enough. But I thought we showed glimpses of class at times in the second, against Glasgow, and again against Connacht, mainly in the second half."
When it was pointed out that Ulster's much-improved post-interval display in Galway coincided with his presence on the pitch, he smiled broadly and said; "Yeah, but not just because I came on! I have to say that, don't I?"
Becoming serious once more he made the point that results in the other round three matches did Ulster no harm in their bid to make up lost ground.
"Those sort up threw everything back up in the air. It was good to see Zebre win their first game," was his take on the Italians' away-day victory over Cardiff Blues.
"I think that shows the level of competition in the Rabo. You can't take any game for granted – that Cardiff Blues team included Lions players.
"What that result showed is that you've got to play each game at the same level."
With Treviso – the other Italian franchise – providing Ulster's opposition tomorrow night, there seems little likelihood of Gilroy and his team-mates underestimating them.
In the past two seasons Treviso's record at Ravenhill – won one, drew one – is better than that of any other visitors, so there will certainly be no room for complacency.
"They beat Munster at the weekend so that, plus their record here, means they'll probably be feeling pretty confident," he said.
"And they've got some really dangerous guys in their team.
"But I've no doubt that with the strength and depth we have in our squad, provided we play well we should be able to put them away.
"I think we'll take a bit of momentum from the Connacht game, because that's a tough place to go and play.
"Winning there is never an easy task, so having come away with the points has given us momentum which I hope we'll be able to carry into this match."