THIS TIME LAST year Craig Gilroy was starting on the right wing for Ireland are they tangled with England in the Six Nations.
12 months on and Gilroy is training with his Ulster teammates ahead of a Pro12 meeting with Scarlets. Ireland’s next Six Nations game is with England but Gilroy will need a hell of a game to get into the reckoning for the mission to Twickenham.
The 22-year-old won five Test caps last season and scored tries against Argentina and Scotland. He also ran in a hat-trick against Fiji while playing with Ireland Wolfhounds. Injury curtailed his season and forced him out of the summer tour to North America. Gilroy would have been forgiven for assuming he would come back into the selection mix for the November Series and the Six Nations. Indeed, he has been named in extended squads but now appears to be down the pecking order.
Andrew Trimble and Dave Kearney are the men in possession of jerseys numbered 11 and 14. Versatile Fergus McFadden is covering numerous backline spots and Luke Fitzgerald, before his groin injury, was next in line. Keith Earls is out injured for the tournament and Tommy Bowe needs to prove his fitness. Having been released to their provinces in late January, Gilroy and Simon Zebo were on the outside, looking in, for the Scotland and Wales games. That is not exactly true. Gilroy was at the Aviva Stadium last weekend.
He told TheScore.ie, “I was down in Dublin for the Wales match. It was a great game but hard to watch, at the same time, as I wasn’t involved. I was really happy for the team though.”
Every Ireland player you talk to will tell you of the detailed, one-on-one chats Joe Schmidt has with his players. Gilroy is no different and has been given words of encouragement by the New Zealander. “He told me to go back to Ulster, get some game time in and if I put in a couple of big performances I could be called back to [Carton House].”
Source: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland
Having to watch Ireland’s first two games at a remove from the action, Gilroy is not begrudging his Ulster teammate Trimble his run of form on the right wing. “Andrew always plays so well for Ulster but often found if different with Ireland. Since Joe has arrived, though, he is really enjoying it and is reveling in the step-up in intensity,” he added.
“I thought Andrew was outstanding against Wales. I met him for lunch on Monday and we were chatting about the first two games. He is really pleased with how he is getting on.”
While Trimble, Rory Best, Luke Marshall and Chris Henry have been pivotal in Ireland’s winning start to the Six Nations, players such as Iain Henderson and Darren Cave have returned to their provinces for match minutes. Given the number of injuries to key players Ireland have endured in the past three years, the squad could be stretched at any time over the next month.
Gilroy got little chance to shine against Ospreys in rain-soaked Ravenhill last Friday — a match that he called ‘a big mess’ — as Ulster won very, very ugly. Scarlets are next up and the winger is hoping the backline can have a greater say in deciding the tie. “This block of games is very important to us,” he said, “and securing another home win at Ravenhill is a massive priority. Scarlets beat us earlier in the season so we definitely owe them one for that.”
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