Ulster Rugby: Craig Gilroy ready to fire again
Craig Gilroy is hoping for a night like the last time he lined up against Edinburgh.
Friday, November 22, 2013 was the date and the Ulster and Ireland wing scored two tries as Mark Anscombe's side romped to a 41-17 Ravenhill victory over the visiting Scots.
Since then, there have not been too many such nights for Gilroy who turned 23 on March 11. Injury and an inability to recapture the dazzling form of the previous two seasons have combined to turn 2013/14 into a real test of character.
"It's been tough, just frustrating really," he said. "I just haven't really been myself and I know that."
But last Friday night he began to see light at the end of what has been dark tunnel.
"For the first time this season I felt like myself again. I felt really good, felt sharp. I thought I made a bit of an impact off the bench, so I'm looking forward to this."
The last time he played at Murrayfield – February 2013 – it was for Ireland and he scored a 43rd minute try. But somehow Scotland won 12-8 despite having being outplayed in terms of possession and territory, so his memory of the occasion is not particularly happy.
And although Ireland have just won the 2014 Six Nations Championship, Gilroy played no part in that success. Those injuries and that subsequent loss of form have seen him drop down the Irish pecking order.
Asked how it had felt watching them during the just-ended series, he replied: "It's mixed emotions really. It's good to see the guys do so well and lift it. And a good send-off for Brian O'Driscoll as well, the legend that he is.
"It was great to see fellow-Ulstermen doing well down there, too.
"But at the same time you have that want to be involved yourself. It does hurt a little bit having been involved last year, but at the same time I have been there before and I think I'll be there again.
"It's just fuel to the fire, really. It makes you want to work harder, be better and come back stronger. I'm still young and feeling good so I have no doubt that I have plenty more to show."
With Ulster in the hunt for honours on the Heineken Cup and PRO12 fronts, he knows there are going to be opportunities to impress on some pretty big stages.
"This is building up towards the end of the season so every game is important now. We're in a good position in both competitions so we need to capitalise on that and continue the forward momentum that we have.
"We're playing well and we've won a lot on the bounce so we want to keep that up."
He has another incentive, too.
"There's a summer tour to Argentina so there's a lot to play for, absolutely," he said.
The return of Tommy Bowe and Stephen Ferris after serious injury is timely, too, in his eyes.
"Yes, some very important guys are back and that will just boost things," he said. "They'll add their bit to the team and that will lift the players around them as well so it's good timing for everyone."
Gilroy is expecting another tough encounter tonight in Edinburgh.
"They're a good side and I think they've brought in a few signings since we beat them at Ravenhill so they may well be a different kettle of fish," he reckoned.
"But that doesn't really change anything very much for us; we've trained well all week so we'll be going over there confident that we can put in a big performance."
Ulster have come through the always-difficult Six Nations part of the season in very good shape.
Victories over Ospreys, Benetton Treviso, NG Dragons and Scarlets – with try-scoring bonuses in each of the last two of those four for good measure – have seen them close right up on Munster and Leinster, both of whom they must play in the run-in.
"We've come through that block in good shape," he said.
"We actually achieved more than what we set out to do in that block of four so that's a real positive for us.
"Now it's about carrying this momentum and positivity onwards.
"These two fixtures before the Heineken Cup – albeit they are both away – are opportunities for us to put in big performances and come back with the points."
Acknowledging what is coming in the final three rounds of the PRO12, he said: "Away to Glasgow, home to Leinster and away to Munster... they're three of the toughest fixtures of the season so it's a hard run-in. That's why these games are important."
Recent results have confirmed Ulster's ability and hunger. Gilroy is keen to see that acknowledged.
"It has been a good run and I think it's important that people don't forget that," he said. "If winning was easy, all the teams would be doing it.
"It's important to remember that we have done very well and that we're winning our games.
"That's great – that's what has put us up there.
"We've put ourselves in a good position. We have confidence in ourselves to do the job and get the points."
Then almost by way of after-thought he lobbed in: "We really want to grab some silverware this time. That's what it's all about."