Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Gilroy on the defensive

Craig Gilroy is in fine form with Ireland, even if he isn't sure of an Ulster start
Craig Gilroy is in fine form with Ireland, even if he isn't sure of an Ulster start

At 21 years of age Craig Gilroy appears to have it all. He's an Ireland international wing, has a knack for scoring tries, shares a dressing-room with his childhood heroes and is being whispered about as a possible British & Irish Lion.

And to round off the package he's apparently been dating the reigning Miss Northern Ireland, Tiffany Brien for the past number of months.

You want to hate the bloke, and when you consider his many blessings and that he's just starting out in a career with so much promise you almost do. Then you remember how he smashed Leigh Halfpenny in the second half of the win over Wales last weekend.

He absolutely boned the Wales' full-back, disrupting what had been a promising Wales' attack up to that point.

And in that one moment Gilroy smashed the myth that his defensive game isn't as explosive as his offensive.

"When you break out and make a tackle like that you do feel relief that you got man on ball," recalled Gilroy.

"I actually remember seeing him on the ground and then I saw the ball just rolling away so I just thought job's not done yet. There is no real rest.

"You haven't a second to rest and congratulate yourself. You just have to keep going."

Gilroy burst onto the international stage with a hat-trick of tries against Fiji in the non-capped international in November. He followed that feat with the opening try in Ireland's demolition of Argentina to round off the Autumn Series.

He was, at the time, the poster-boy for the Declan Kidney led revolution Irish rugby is still undertaking.

The inclusion of Gilroy, Simon Zebo and Peter O'Mahony in the starting line-up for that final game in November, allied to the introductions of Dave Kilcoyne and Iain Henderson off the bench, put a particularly youthful sheen on the Ireland team.

Since then he's been somewhat overshadowed by the outrageous personality that is Simon Zebo.

Gilroy is happy to be in the background. Zebo is, as Brian O'Driscoll described him this week, "one of a kind".

The Corkman feeds off the frenzy created by magical moments like his heel flick in the lead up to Cian Healy's try – skills learned on the field that was Avondale United's schoolboy soccer base, Beaumont Park, in Cork in the years before rugby became his sole sport. It obviously helped Zebo's skills that back then Beaumont was more field than pitch!

Gilroy is a more retiring character, content to let the spotlight shine on Ireland's left wing while he does his thing on the right.

"I don't really bother with that, the spotlight. Simon enjoys it so he has his time there. As Brian has said, you can be flavour of the month.

"He's getting what he deserves and it's great for him. He's great fun."

The two wingers are polar opposites in terms of personalities, as O'Driscoll pointed out earlier this week: "Zeebs brings a great energy and a freshness. Craig is learning every day, he can see that, and he's thriving on that and they're just dealing with it in their own way. That's what works for them."

It's that contrast of temperaments that is enhancing this Ireland set-up. Those who have now earned veteran status are feeding off the enthusiasm of those who are newer to the set-up and, as a team, Ireland are benefiting.

Given how explosive his arrival was it is sobering to realise that Gilroy was earning just his second senior cap for Ireland in the game against Wales.

"It was a pretty big step up. You are playing guys when they are with their Welsh clubs week in and week out in the Rabo and it is the same guys but when you step up to that level it just seems much more intense.

"I noticed that more in the second-half on Saturday than the first. The first (half) was going great. We were playing great rugby and we obviously got a few points on the board but they came back at us and it was a very physical game."

Gilroy's status as an Ireland wing is at odds with his status in Ulster. After wowing the crowds in Thomond Park and the Aviva in November he returned to his club only to find himself on the bench as Ulster's Mark Anscombe went with Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble as his starting wings.

Gilroy's, and that of Zebo, emergence on the international front has been at Trimble's direct expense. He won his 49th senior cap against South Africa to kick off the Autumn Series but was released back to Ulster for their trip to Italy on the weekend Gilroy won his first cap.

It is a unique situation, as Gilroy acknowledged. But the 21 year old isn't one to throw the toys out of the pram.

"As you can imagine it can be a bit frustrating but it is about the team at the end of the day and I can't let the frustration get the better of me," he said.

"I just had to take it on the chin really and back Mark's decision, keep my head down and try to come on and make an impact.

"If you look at the two guys who are ahead of me, Tommy and Andrew, they are international players with nearly a hundred caps between them so you can't be too disappointed with that but at the same time you do want to be playing the whole time."

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