Kyriacou grasps opportunity this time

Wed, Oct 21, 2009, 01:00

JOHN O’SULLIVANon the Liverpool-born hooker with the Greek Cypriot surname who has finally found a home from home with Ulster at Ravenhill

WHEN OPPORTUNITY presents itself the primary goal is to grasp it. Ulster’s Andy Kyriacou certainly seems to appreciate that truism, based on his performances for Ulster this season. He’s been good at times and excelled on other occasions.

The 26-year-old hooker’s career is a homily to resilience and character. Injury deprived him of a more central role when England won an Under-21 Grand Slam in 2004. He played one game for Sale Sharks and Leeds Carnegie respectively before joining Saracens as a 21 year-old. It certainly wasn’t the easy option because to try and get some game time he had to muscle his way past a triumvirate of international hookers, Shane Byrne (Ireland), Matt Cairns (England) and Fabio Ongaro (Italy).

He managed 39 appearances in five years, not including a six-month hiatus with Munster in which he lined out nine times for the Irish province in the 2006-2007 season. Jerry Flannery and Denis Fogarty were both outafter shoulder reconstruction surgery, so the then Munster coach Declan Kidney called in Kyriacou to supplement the hooking resources.

Kyriacou recalled: “Deccie (Kidney) gave me a fair bit of footie during those six months and I really enjoyed my time there. There was talk of signing an extension but at that point Munster had three other frontline hookers back in action, Jerry (Flannery), Denis (Fogarty) and Frankie (Sheahan). I had a year left on my contract and things at Saracens kicked on a bit under Alan Gaffney.”

Liverpool born, the Kyriacou surname comes from a Greek/Cypriot grandfather but the gene pool is further diluted by his grandmother Eileen, who was born in Dublin before moving to Northampton. She died when he was young but it did not stop him making trips across the Irish Sea to catch up with family friends in Malahide. He’s Ireland-qualified and based on injury and circumstance that could see him make the Ireland A squad for a couple of matches next month.

When Saracens elected to embrace a South African consortium last season 15 players were released, one of whom was Kyriacou. His agent made a few calls and informed him that David Humphreys – Matt Williams was the Ulster coach at the time – was interested. The negotiations culminated in the player penning a two-year deal with the Irish province.

These events preceded the news that Ulster captain Rory Best would be sidelined after neck surgery. Kyriacou found himself in a straight duel with Nigel Brady, the former starting six of seven competitive matches to date. “I signed towards the end of last season and have enjoyed every minute. We did a great pre-season, really tough physically but it served to bond the lads tightly.”

Living with Ed O’Donoghue and Bryan Young, he’s found it easy to settle in and is really enjoying the chance to play regularly. Under Jeremy Davidson’s direction Ulster are gradually developing a more abrasive style up front to complement athleticism and mobility.

Kyriacou relishes his new work environment. “The lads are open-minded and honest; that’s what we demand from one another. You put up your hand when you make a mistake. We’re all working hard to improve, both individually and collectively.

“Obviously last weekend was a massive disappointment. We’ve had a couple of moments like that this season in terms of the Magners games against the Dragons and Edinburgh but losing in the Heineken Cup to Edinburgh was particularly frustrating, given that we had made such a good start to the tournament.

“We’re not going to dwell on it. The only game that matters now is Leinster at Ravenhill on Saturday. It’s first versus second and everyone is really excited about it. I think that goes for the supporters too. Ravenhill was really kicking in terms of atmosphere for the Bath game and I’d expect it to be the same at the weekend.”

So what about the Irish angle? Kyriacou laughs: “I think most players would say the only thing I can control is my form and performance levels. After that it is up to others to make decisions on whether that is good enough. What I can say is that if the opportunity did arise I would be absolutely thrilled.”