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Ulster's Craig Gilroy is out to reach the highest level

By Jonathan Bradley

Truth be told, Ulster's Craig Gilroy had hoped to be travelling to Wales this week for a rather different reason than his province's trip to Scarlets.

With Ireland's World Cup squad departing for Celtic Manor on Wednesday, ahead of their tournament opener with Canada at the Millennium Stadium a week from today, Ulster's top try-scorer last season had spent his summer on the Joe Schmidt road show at camps in Carton House, Dublin, Galway and Cork.

The writing appeared to be on the wall, however, when the six-times capped speedster was unable to force his way into the match-day 23 for the warm-up games ahead of the squad announcement and, when eventually not included in the 31, Gilroy was left to reflect on a galling end to what was a hugely beneficial experience.

Rather than suppress the emotion of the rejection, however, the Bangor man allowed himself time to process the setback.

"Sometimes you do have to take a moment just to be disappointed as such," Gilroy mused. "You just have to give yourself time to take it all in.

"The eight or nine weeks when I was down involved with Ireland was invaluable.

"Obviously I was disappointed not to be involved more, and get an opportunity in a game, but being in that environment for so long really helped me progress as a rugby player.

"The training was very intense but very thorough and we all bought into it together.

"We improved in all aspects of our game; there isn't an area missed."

Given that it has now been three years since Gilroy burst onto the international stage in the last November of Declan Kidney's reign with a hat-trick against Fiji in an uncapped game at Thomond Park and a try on his Test debut against Argentina a week later, it is easy to forget that he is just 24-years-old.

The only younger backs who made Joe Schmidt's squad for this tournament are Robbie Henshaw and Paddy Jackson but the idea that time is still very much on his side is of little solace.

"I always back myself and I wouldn't want to look at age as an excuse," he said. "For me I wouldn't be thinking like, 'I'm young enough to make it next time'.

"I don't care what age I am, I want to be good enough to go.

"At the same time it was a massive experience for me to be involved in and certainly I'll not let it knock me off.

"You have to pick yourself up quickly in this game and keep motoring on and that's what I've done being back at Ulster.

"I'm going to stay fit and train really hard. I'm hoping to get some good performances under my belt. If the time comes to be called upon, I'll be good to go."

It is a similar sentiment to the one echoed by Andrew Trimble during this week but Ulster will be without the Coleraine man today thanks to a hip flexor injury, leaving Gilroy to lead the attack with Rory Scholes coming into the No.11 jersey and David Busby providing cover for the back-three from the bench.

Today's opposition were impressive last week - beating champions Glasgow at Scotstoun - but Gilroy affirms that Ulster must carry the momentum of their bonus-point triumph against the Ospreys last week to a ground where they haven't won in their last three attempts.

"I always think that when the games are starting, that's when it's time to show the benefits of the training that you've done," he said.

"It's no longer all on the coaches, it's your turn as soon as you cross that whitewash.

"It was good to start the season on a high like that and get the bonus point.

"Ospreys are a tough side, they were semi-finalists last year just like us, and they always seem to be there or thereabouts.

"They've a big squad and they always seem to go far in the league.

"For us to start off with a bonus point was fantastic and to do it against the Opsreys, even better.

"They'll be confident after their win and we can take a bit from our last game.

"We know we can go over there and play but we have to perform.

"They're passionate and they have a great pitch but it's a good place to play."

A good place to play rugby perhaps but hardly a happy hunting ground for Ulster or their PRO12 counterparts in recent years.

Neil Doak's men are out to buck the trend this afternoon.

Belfast Telegraph


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