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Craig Gilroy eager to put on Ulster jersey again after year on the sidelines

 

Ready to go: Craig Gilroy has performed well in pre-season and can't wait for the action to get underway
Ready to go: Craig Gilroy has performed well in pre-season and can't wait for the action to get underway

By Michael Sadlier

There's an obvious fatigue factor creeping in when it comes to the, seemingly, endless discussion of all things pre-season.

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After all, the two friendlies with Glasgow Warriors began at the start of the month and, here we are, drawing closer to the back end of September and only now getting round to playing competitively.

So, Friday evening really can't come quickly enough when the PRO14 gets up and running and few will be more eager to test themselves than Craig Gilroy.

Unfortunately, he will not be joined by several of his injured team-mates with Ulster confirming yesterday that Robert Baloucoune has a knee problem that will have him sidelined.

It was already known that Will Addison was out having picked up a hamstring issue while Marty Moore's calf is the reason he is not fit.

Nick Timoney's hand and Marcell Coetzee's ankle have them rehabbing too.

Anyway, Gilroy's last non-friendly game for Ulster was way back last October at Racing 92, the well-documented back issue keeping him away from the game until the beginning of the pre-season programme.

Still, he looked sharp enough when getting to play the opening half of the resounding 50-19 whacking of the Warriors at the Kingspan before he then managed to get 80 minutes under his belt in the return game the following week.

Indeed, he scored two tries in that initial eight-try thumping and looked back to his imperious best when being offered a sniff at carving out a score.

"From a personal view, pre-season went really well," said the 28-year-old, dealing with the tired fact that we're still waiting for competitive rugby.

"And to get through both games was good, so now there is nothing left to do except get the season started."

Point taken. But the tries?

"It was just something that if it happened, it happened," states the now long-serving Ulster squad member with 168 competitive games behind him.

"I had never been out so long and I played the full 80 in Glasgow (in the second game) which was my goal.

"I was sore for about three days after it which is pretty much what you would expect after 11 months out.

"I'm really looking forward to Friday, to put on that jersey and play."

As for the notion that Ulster are in a really good place - thanks to fairly minimal World Cup disruption - to make a flying start to the PRO14, Gilroy isn't for entertaining such a concept.

"I think people maybe read too much into stuff like that," he maintains, without alluding to the squad's injury profile.

"We have what we have, we've prepped well with what we have and we'll just aim from that."

"I don't think we'll look into too many scenarios and we don't want to be sitting here in four weeks and people saying 'that was a good opportunity and you didn't deliver'. That's almost setting us up for failure."

There was a feeling last season could be just a taster for better things to come what with the side making knockout rugby in both competitions and, leaving aside the result against Glasgow in the PRO14 semi-final, there was a genuine surge of belief after taking Leinster to the edge in Europe's last eight.

Gilroy could only watch from the stands while McFarland brought the province some sense of on-pitch rehabilitation.

"I think to set targets that far ahead (suggesting this season could be even better) would be unrealistic," is Gilroy's take on the query.

"But we want to be successful in both competitions."

It's a pretty dog-eared line for Gilroy to deploy but, sometimes, there is just no avoiding it.

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