RUGBY CAN MOVE cruelly quickly for those impeded by injury.
This time last year, Craig Gilroy was preparing himself for Ireland’s opening Six Nations clash with Wales, one of the four starts he made in the 2013 tournament. After bursting onto the scene in the 2012 November Test series by scoring three tries in a ridiculously non-capped game against Fiji, his performance a week later versus Argentina had led to the words ‘bolter’ and ‘Lions’ being whispered.
A try against Scotland, as well as 80-minute shifts against England and Italy had left Gilroy as something of an established international by the end of the 2013 Six Nations. Disaster followed though, as a groin injury ruined the tail-end of his season, while an ankle problem has stunted his development this season.
Despite it all, the former Methody student is delighted to be back on the pitch and is aiming to make up for lost time in the green of Ireland. Having missed out on the original 44-man Ireland squad in order to accumulate more game time with Ulster, his performances against Montpellier and Leicester convinced Joe Schmidt that he was ready.
Gilroy starts for the Ireland Wolfhounds side against the England Saxons in Gloucester tomorrow and is simply pleased to be back on the international scene.
Absolutely. I was obviously sidelined for quite a while with injury and when I came back from one, I almost got another [he broke his nose against Montpellier], so it’s great to be back playing with Ulster. I really didn’t expect to be involved with the Six Nations when it was originally called down and I’m just delighted to be given the opportunity.”
Does Gilroy feel back to the heights of performance that he hit in 2012/13, particularly in that clash against Argentina in Dublin, where Ireland’s game plan appeared to largely consist of getting the ball into his hands?
“I wouldn’t say I’m quite there yet, but I’m definitely back to full fitness now. I think that’s coming off the back of training games with Ulster and those back-to-back Heineken Cup games, where we did well.
“So I’m back to full fitness now which is good and hopefully this weekend will be a bit of an opportunity for me to put my hand up again. I’m just really happy to be down and really positive about it. Definitely, I’m going to try to take it with both hands and just enjoy it, enjoy the guys I’ll be playing with.”
Gilroy scores against Scotland in last year’s Six Nations. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.
Selected as part of a promising Wolfhounds XV, Gilroy says he is expecting an evenly-matched encounter in Kingsholm, as the Saxons “always have a really strong team.” The Bangor-bred pace merchant is particularly looking forward to the chance to play outside an “exciting” centre partnership of Darren Cave and Robbie Henshaw.
Alongside Gilroy in the back three are right wing Fergus McFadden – an incredibly effective presence for Ireland last November – and Munster fullback Felix Jones. This week’s preparation has gone well for the trio of attacking talents.
“We’ve linked up well, so everyone’s really comfortable. This is actually my first time playing with Felix. I’ve really enjoyed training with him, even if it’s only been a couple of days; I’ve really enjoyed it. He really knows his stuff and gives everything 100%. He’s really comfortable to play outside, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Another man who knows his stuff is head coach Joe Schmidt, the person Gilroy is really hoping to impress tomorrow evening. The five-times capped winger made all of those international appearances under Declan Kidney, meaning the set-up has been a little different during his first involvement with Schmidt.
So far, Gilroy has been denied/avoided one of the Kiwi’s famously detailed individual feedback sessions, but Schmidt has made a point of welcoming him back into the Ireland fray and commenting on his return from injury. Gilroy has only positive things to say in return.
It is a bit of a difference, but I’m really enjoying it. He’s been very impressive so far, the detail he goes into with the guys. He won’t miss anything and he can be a bit of a perfectionist. But it’s fantastic, it keeps you on your toes and I’ve been really impressed so far.”
The overall intention for Gilroy and the other 22 Wolfhounds tomorrow may be to push for senior involvement during the Six Nations, but the Dungannon RFC man highlights that the Anthony Foley-coached side must work as a team at Kingsholm.
“We’ve come together pretty quickly and there’s a lot of maps and stuff to get right for the weekend. I think certainly we’ll just want to get the basics right and once we do that, we can start focusing on the strong things that everyone else is going to bring.
“I think most importantly, if you just go over there and try to do everything at 100 miles an hour and all these amazing plays you’ve just learned, things might fall apart. But I think we’ve looked strong in training and as long as we stick together and trust each other, it’ll go well.”
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