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Jonathan Bradley: There's no way Stuart McCloskey deserved to miss Ireland squad but his glaring omission is still unsurprising

Ulster's Stuart McCloskey.
Ulster's Stuart McCloskey.
Left out: Stuart McCloskey isn’t in the Ireland panel
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Even on a sunny, almost summer day, you're never long in finding proof of the old adage that it not only rains but pours.

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So discovered Ulster's Stuart McCloskey yesterday when, hours after being informed he'd not made the Ireland training squad for the 2019 World Cup, he also discovered he'd misplaced his wallet somewhere along the way. Hopefully he's not a believer that bad luck comes in threes.

With 44 players being drawn from just four sides - we are now some way beyond exclusions for the likes of Simon Zebo and Ian Madigan being considered a story - shocks are somewhat hard to come by in announcements such as these. They'll be saved for early September when the group is whittled down to just the 31 names travelling to Japan.

While the likes of Will Addison, Quinn Roux, Tom Farrell and Jack O'Donoghue all have various cause to feel a bit hard done by, McCloskey's omission was the only one that could be described as glaring. Glaring, yet unsurprising.

McCloskey was voted by both Ulster stars and supporters as the province's best player this season.

Again he has been a near constant too, successive Ulster coaches squeezing every drop out of his body to compensate for something of a revolving door at out-half.

And while you can tell plenty of lies with statistics, he led Ulster in a host of categories, all the while passing the eye test too.

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He got his hands dirty at the breakdown when required, played through pain at a time you couldn't walk through Kingspan Stadium without tripping over an injured centre, and took on an added responsibility defensively.

Simply put, there is no way he is not one of the 44 form players on this island.

Ireland boss Joe Schmidt has never quite seemed to warm to the player he first capped in the Six Nations of 2016 before speaking of him in only lukewarm terms after that clash against England.

Only two caps have followed in the next two seasons, both in November clashes among heavily rotated teams. Whether it's down to a difference in playing philosophies, or, as has been previously speculated, a past difference of opinion, it's certainly been enough to raise a few eyebrows.

Earlier this season, McCloskey's own take on the continued absences was somewhat more prosaic.

"The team is doing so well with Robbie (Henshaw) there and now Bundee (Aki), if I was coach I wouldn't see any real point in changing it unless I've ripped up trees," he commented after the most recent November series.

This time around, plenty thought he'd been doing just that. Ultimately, the only man who matters evidently felt otherwise.

Belfast Telegraph


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