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Ulster's Craig Gilroy focused on Ireland recall despite an uncertain future


By Jonathan Bradley

Irish Rugby's unofficial contract season began with a bang last month thanks to the news that Simon Zebo would be leaving these shores, and murmurs have continued since with the likes of Peter O'Mahony and Ulster's own Iain Henderson said to have been the subject of admiring glances from overseas.

With futures uncertain, it can be a difficult time for players at all levels of the pro game, but Ulster's Craig Gilroy is not one to be fazed by it all.

The winger, now back to full fitness after missing the start of the season due to a back problem, is one of a number of first-teamers at Kingspan Stadium whose deal expires this summer, with Rory Best, Jared Payne, Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave and the aforementioned Henderson among those needing to put pen to paper either here or elsewhere.

Gilroy, though, is keen to put such thoughts to the back of his mind ahead of a key period on the pitch.

"I think some guys can end up putting too much pressure on themselves at times like these," he said.

"Some guys are maybe thinking about it too much, thinking about what will happen if they don't play well, and that can have an adverse effect. You just have to trust yourself and let the rugby do the talking for you.

"For me, and everyone is different, but I just think you have to leave these things to your agent. Guys will know in their own heads what they want to do, and everyone is different, has different reasons that go into the decision.

"But for me, I definitely tend not to dwell too much on it and just concentrate on the rugby. I wouldn't take too much to do with it until there's a decision to be made."

Unable to offer the same financial packages that are available in England and France, the main carrot on offer from the provinces is the promise of a green jersey.

For the likes of Gilroy, who has found himself in and out of the national frame, it remains to be seen whether that prospect is enough, but the 26-year-old was name checked by Joe Schmidt after Ireland's weekend win over Argentina as someone who could potentially force his way back into the Six Nations reckoning.

Now that he's fit, an international recall - Gilroy has not played for Ireland since notching a hat-trick off the bench against Italy last year - is certainly in his sights.

"It's great to be back playing again, it really is," he said. "Friday night against (Benetton), it was my first competitive game at Kingspan this season, and the first since May.

"Running out onto the field, I'd really missed that feeling. It felt like my first time, which seems strange to be saying with getting the 150 caps a few weeks before. It's great to be back and I just want to add my bit to this team.

"I feel fit and firing at 100% so I want to play well here, get to start here and win here. Hopefully that gets me back into that Ireland team."

Next up for Ulster is a trip to the Dragons and, after unconvincing performances in wins over the Southern Kings and Benetton, Gilroy wants to lay down a marker ahead of a return to European action in the crucial back-to-back clashes with Harlequins.

"We want to hit the ground running ahead of this run," he added.

"We got the win on Friday but we have to build momentum and keep winning games."

Gilroy was speaking to the Belfast Telegraph on behalf of Coca-Cola's 2017 Designated Driver campaign, which is asking people to give the 'Gift of a Lift' this Christmas.

The aim of the 2017 Designated Driver campaign is to encourage people across the region to give the 'Gift of a Lift' to friends and loved ones this Christmas, by staying sober on nights out to ensure they get home safely.

"We just want to spread awareness of the need for safe driving over Christmas," Gilroy said.

"It can be a tricky time of year for people on the roads. People want to go out and socialise and it's very important they're never tempted to then get behind the wheel.

"I'm in my mid-20s so I've a lot of friends who would be out, especially this time of year. I'd be encouraging that, to save any hassle, there is a designated driver.

"You can take it in turns and it saves you waiting for a taxi in the cold too!"

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