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Silverware the target for fit-again Craig Gilroy

By Jonathan Bradly

He'll take to the field for today's Guinness PRO12 opener against Scarlets as a revitalised player after putting last season's frustrations behind him when part of the Emerging Ireland side that won the IRB Nations Cup in June.

The former Methody pupil's ascension through the rugby ranks had, until last season, been rapid.

Having made his full Ulster debut a mere 21 months after appearing in a Schools' Cup final, the breathtaking Heineken Cup quarter-final try against Munster that captured the imagination of the rugby public came just weeks after he had turned 22.

Twelve months later and he had earned five caps for Ireland, scoring twice, leading to murmurs that he could be potential bolter for the Lions tour to Australia that summer.

It was then that a succession of injuries disrupted a progression that had hitherto been undeterred as troublesome groin and ankle injuries saw him miss significant stretches of last season and cross the whitewash just four times – half the total he amassed in his debutcampaign in 2010/11. As the end of his lost year loomed, however, the Bangor man was feeling back to his best and even displayed an ability to perform commendably in a less familiar fullback role – a position he has been focusing on throughout pre-season training.

So, while Ulster's campaign ended in a disappointing fashion with a fourth consecutive season-ending loss to interpro rivals Leinster, Gilroy was personally pleased to be showing signs that a return to his sparkling best was imminent.

He reflected: "It was frustrating to miss the start of last season through injury and I kind of spent the rest of it almost playing catch-up.

"It was good to find myself again towards the end and I really enjoyed the end of last season whether it was playing at fullback or wing.

"It was good to come back into my form, albeit not with much game time left."

The momentum was carried into the summer and, while Munster's new signing Robin Copeland was named Player of the Tournament, Gilroy's try- scoring in the Nations Cup drew praise despite concerns about the quality of opposition.

"I finished that tour with four tries, which was top, and it was a testament to how the team played," recalled Gilroy.

"I really enjoyed the group that went there. It was a lot of guys that I had played with at under-age level in the other provinces and it was a great tour.

"It put me into a nice break feeling much happier."

He carried that confidence into pre-season and has been looking forward to the trip to Parc y Scarlets ever since.

"I'm buzzing to get playing on Saturday. The new guys coming in, there's been a good buzz.

"I think the two games we played were really positive.

"Despite the loss against Exeter, we put a lot of good plays together.

"We had a good win down at Leinster there and it was great to stretch the legs and play with the new guys."

As well as new signings, Ulster have, of course, also been working under a new coach after Les Kiss was brought in to replace Mark Anscombe and Gilroy, familiar with Kiss from the international set-up, has been enjoying the new regime.

"Les has come in and done a fantastic job. A lot of the guys know him from the international set-up and Les was with Ireland, obviously, when I got my first cap and he was great to me.

"It's great to have him here and I think everyone is very grateful that he is."

Both the fresh start and fresh faces have Gilroy feeling that Ulster can finally transform their potential into trophies.

"I've been saying it every year about getting silverware and probably sound like a bit of a broken record now but it's still there.

"It has been close over the last few seasons but we don't really have much to show for it. "It's certainly time we got some silverware for ourselves and for the management and everyone else and I suppose especially for the fans."

After his travails of the last year, Gilroy's ambitions for his own season are slightly more modest.

"I want to stay fit, first and foremost I want to really enjoy my rugby, play well and get back to scoring tries which is what I do best."

And so say all of us.

Sadlier's match verdict

Ulster lost their way on their previous visit to Parc y Scarlets last November. And it won't be any easier this time as the Scarlets have their tails up.

Verdict: Scarlets to shade it.

Belfast Telegraph


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