He's exciting, he's fresh and he's eager to please
It's a sweet feeling as Craig Gilroy is congratulated by Jonny Sexton after scoring the first of Ireland's seven tries against Argentina on his Test debut. photograph: inpho
INTERVIEW WITH CRAIG GILROY:The Ulster winger has long been seen as the potential next big thing for Ireland
Craig Gilroy’s Twitter account describes him as a rugby player, a part-time student (in business and marketing) and an ambassador for the Assisi Animal Sanctuary. It’s a shelter based in Conlig, just outside Gilroy’s home seaside town of Bangor in Co Down.
Last weekend he visited the sanctuary with his dog and was given a few seeking homes which he could take for walks and hawk to prospective owners. Walking dogs is relaxing for him, and if he can help Assisi raise money, all the better.
On his 21st birthday last year some friends turned up at Gilroy’s house with a tank of water and a shoe box containing “a bearded dragon”, or lizard.
He’s always liked animals. Growing up he had a hamster, one of his three sisters had two rabbits and latterly, much to their dad’s dismay, they acquired a wee golden labrador, called Miley, from Assisi.
In truth, his parents, Noel and Lorna, never discouraged Gilroy and his four siblings – older sister Zara, brother Stuart and younger sisters Caitlin and Keeva – from doing anything, and, not unlike his broad taste in animals, in Gilroy’s case that extended to sport. His dad played some squash, tennis and athletics, but there was no rugby in the family tree at all, though in his formative years football, especially, and Gaelic football held sway.
“Growing up I just wanted to do anything. I just loved sports. Obviously there’s that divide in Ulster, Catholic and Protestant, but I just didn’t care. I just wanted to play it (Gaelic). I thought I was quite good at it.”
He played mostly in midfield for St Paul’s in Holywood, while also playing football for Holywood Boys and Bangor Swifts. He had, he admits, ambitions for football. “I thought of packing in the rugby and concentrating on football. But then I just loved rugby too much, I couldn’t let it go, and from 16 I stuck with the rugby.”
He can still remember his first rugby training session as an 11-year-old in Methody. “Forwards here, backs there, and I didn’t have a clue which was which and I went with the forwards. And up until 16 I was a forward.”
He played flanker and number eight. “Pick up the ball at the back of the scrum and just run, start stepping and never pass,” he says, laughing.
His rugby ambitions with Methody hit a glitch when he was a grade off achieving his GCSEs. He went to BRA (Belfast Royal Academy) for five months, during which time he was moved to the wing. He was just becoming acclimatised to BRA when he resat one of his GCSEs, passed it, and was readmitted to Method, though only started regularly in his final season when Paddy Jackson again steered them to the trophy.