Craig Gilroy happy to be back playing and staying in Schmidt thoughts

The Irish winger was sidelined for months with a groin injury

Ireland wing Craig Gilroy who is back in action after injury. Photograph: Jonathan Porter/Inpho/Presseye/

Ireland wing Craig Gilroy who is back in action after injury. Photograph: Jonathan Porter/Inpho/Presseye/


Craig Gilroy didn’t attend the recent two day jamboree in Carton House with the Irish squad. That’s not to say the 21-year-old has not had words with Irish coach Joe Schmidt.

The winger and occasional Ulster fullback had just claimed his first piece of pitch time for Ulster against Connacht in the Sportsground on Saturday after three months tending to a groin strain.

One of the young Irish players to break through last season under Declan Kidney, Gilroy initially flared up in the national consciousness over several winter months, his eye-catching broken play running brimming with confidence and intent.

While he wasn’t included in Schmidt’s mass convention, the Kiwi rang Gilroy, not to commiserate with him at missing out on an invitation that his young team-mate Iain Henderson received, but to reassure him that rehabilitation continues even after the first few steps in a competitive match.

Gilroy hasn’t been forgotten. Then, why would he have been. In November last year he scored a hat-trick for Ireland in a non-Test match against Fiji at Thomond Park and was rewarded with a place against Argentina in the November Series, scoring the opening try on his Test debut in a 46-24 win. That performance again drew Kidney’s eye, who picked Gilroy to play against Wales in this year’s opening match of the Six Nations Championship.

‘Just enjoy playing’
“No, I wasn’t down in Carton. Joe (Schmidt) rang me and said to just enjoy playing with Ulster,” says Gilroy. “He said don’t worry about it and to take the day off. I’ll be training with Ulster this week and, you know, with all the travelling from Belfast down (to Kildare) it would have meant maybe three hours in the car to get to the training camp . . . but yeah it was nice to get a call from Joe.

“I suppose he was just giving me some sort of reassurance and it gives me a chance to get things right mentally, get it right with Ulster and give my time over the next few weeks. That did give me a bit of confidence and I think he spoke to some of the other lads too. There’s a lot of competition here in Ulster, especially now in the backs so I’m going to concentrate on getting my games and try to get my hand on the ball and play a bit of rugby.”

After the summer inching along towards fitness, he concedes that prior to last week’s match he was feeling nervous. Part of that was not just his own rustiness from being on the sideline for so long but also Ulster’s opening defeats in their first two games made the game pivotal to their mental health. Significantly too Gilroy has a level of play marked out that he wants to regain and a lot of that will come from confidence that his leg speed and trademark stepping ability will hold up to building pressure.

“The first match back, yeah, it’s all over and was very good,” he says. “I was able to get my hands on the ball and now I just hope I can play games with Ulster either at fullback or on the wing. What I want to try and do now is put a marker down. I’m grateful to be back and I have confidence in myself even though I’ve been out for a few months.”

Street cred
Ulster face Munster slayers, Benetton Treviso tomorrow. A 10 point win over Rob Penney’s side gives the Italians some street cred arriving in Belfast but Ulster need no stimulus other than their own sorry start that was at least stemmed in Galway.

“It was very important for us to win against Connacht and they were a team that if they get in front and with the home crowd behind them they can get momentum,” he says. “Our third match and a provincial derby, of course we needed to win.”

“I’ve used that time to train a little bit harder, make myself bigger and stronger than I have been before. It has been a bit of a blessing in disguise. Trimby’s (Andrew Trimble) is due to be back and Tommy’s (Bowe) on his way.”

That’s just the way Schmidt would have it. Always someone snapping at their heels.