Magners League: Paddy shows drive to be Ulster’s next prop star
Paddy McAllister’s delight at having chalked up 19 Ulster appearances this season shines through.
Four of those were in the Heineken Cup. The remaining 15 consist of seven Magners League starts, the balance coming in the form of introductions from the bench.
Not bad for a 21-year-old – particularly one whose position is prop. Normally those guys don’t peak until they are a lot older than that, so for 6 ft 1 in McAllister — who weighs 18 st 6 lbs and stands out by virtue of his distinctively blonde hair — to be in line for a 20th Ulster outing tonight is quite remarkable. So, too, is his attitude.
He oozes drive.
“The Northampton game was a great occasion. I came on for the last 10 minutes, but it was a lesson learnt and hopefully I’m all the better for it.
“That’s what I want really. I’m 21 so I want to come on in these hostile environments, face these big packs and control it as much as I can. Hopefully in years to come it will all pay off,” he says, showing enthusiasm and a maturity which belie his youth.
A product of the Royal School Armagh — Tommy Bowe’s alma mater, of course — and Ballynahinch RFC, clearly the big Markethill native loves the game.
Last Friday he was told he would be in the starting line-up to face Leinster the following night at the RDS as first-choice loosehead, Irish international Tom Court had a head injury.
“The excitement just fills you,” he beams. “I want to be in with those chances, especially in Dublin against the likes of Stan Wright or Mike Ross.”
Facing Wright was a case of a supporter getting to meet his hero — in battle. The Cook Islander is a player McAllister has long admired.
“I’ve grown up watching him and admiring his ball-play. It was nice playing against him; I loved it,” the big Ulsterman says.
Asked about his own ball-|carrying, McAllister replies: “I’ve |carried the ball a few times. It’s something that, as a young player, I’m learning and trying to mould the two things together.
“Everyone has told me, ‘Set piece, set piece’, but I like myself holding the ball so it’s something I’m going to have to learn — the right time and the right technique. I’m trying to use my feet more, picking the right lines in the hope that in time it will pay off.”
Again his answer displays a burning desire to learn and improve, coupled — impressively so — with a realisation that these things take time and therefore require patience. What strikes one about McAllister is the fact that he appears to have all of those ingredients.
Like everyone else in the Ulster squad he is looking forward to facing Connacht tonight. He does not believe the westerners will be quite so happy about the prospect of playing at Ravenhill, however, particularly in view of their horrendous record there.
“It’s not an easy place to come, especially when the crowd is really on our side. I think it will be tough for them,” he ventures.
Was that a glint of eager anticipation is his eye? I do believe it was. There is something about the words ‘tough for them’ which seem to kick-start your average prop – and McAllister is far above average.
At 21 he’s a big guy with a big future.