Gilroy hoping scintillating Ulster form catches Schmidt's eye for World Cup

The 23-year-old has been in excellent try-scoring form for Ulster so far this season.

ALREADY THIS MORNING, some of Ulster’s players will be feeling the nerves and tension of match day.

Their Guinness Pro12 semi-final against Gregor Townsend’s Glasgow Warriors awaits this evening at 19.45 in Scotstoun, but wing Craig Gilroy will be in altogether more relaxed form when he wakes up.

Simon Zebo celebrates his try with Craig Gilroy Gilroy last played for Ireland in the November Test against Georgia. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The 23-year-old has learned to take things in his stride more comfortably this season, a less uptight approach bringing positive results in the shape of some of his best form for Ulster and 11 tries in the Pro12 up to this point.

Having first burst onto the senior scene in 2011, Gilroy swiftly went on to make his Ireland debut under Declan Kidney in 2012, scoring a superb try against Argentina in Dublin a week after crossing for a hattrick in an uncapped clash with Fiji in Limerick.

2013 saw Gilroy start four Six Nations games and it seemed the former Methody student was set for a lengthy international career, but injuries and a subsequent dip in form last season have held him back ever since.

With Tommy Bowe and Andrew Trimble in situ as Ulster’s first-choice wings at the start of the current campaign, it appeared that Gilroy would have to bide his time in fighting back into international contention, but Trimble’s misfortune was Gilroy’s gain.

Last season I was struggling a bit with a few injuries and a bit of form,” says Gilroy. “Come the start of this season I really wanted to hit the ground running but the opportunities I got were kind of limited because Trimby was there at that stage.

“I had to take what was given, then unfortunately for him the injury came and freed up a few more opportunities for me.

“I just took the approach of looking forward to playing more, being more relaxed and just enjoying it. I think that showed on the pitch. I’ve really enjoyed this season with Ulster and I’m constantly learning and trying to improve my game.”

Pictured with his award for Sky Sports Try of the Season is Craig Gilroy from Ulster Gilroy picked up the Pro12 award for Try of the Season.

Indeed, it has shown strongly as Gilroy has scored 13 tries in 20 starts for Ulster in the Pro12 and Europe this season, as well as featuring on the wing for Ireland in the win over Georgia last November.

The impression has been that Gilroy certainly has been more laid-back in his approach. His timing of running lines is more consistently ideal, he’s remaining alert throughout the course of the 80 minutes even when play doesn’t constantly flow his way, and his defensive decisions are more clear-minded.

He nows looks back on groin, ankle, and concussion issues last season “almost as a blessing in disguise” in terms of helping him to appreciate being fit and in-form all the more.

It’s just come from myself really,” says Gilroy of his more relaxed approach. “Believe it or not, I’ve reached 100 [Ulster] caps this season and I’m still only 23. That kind of crept up on me pretty quickly and I knew I’d played a lot for Ulster, but it wasn’t until I was running out that day that I realised what it meant.

“I’ve got enough experience now to know the ins and outs of things. It’s important to work hard throughout the week and it can be stressful, but certainly when you step onto the pitch you need to be cool, calm and collected and not waste energy worrying that day.

“We have a lot of late kick-offs and some guys are in the house all day just thinking about the game, but I tend to take my mind off it and hit the ground running as soon as the whistle goes.”

Gilroy’s return to form brings the World Cup into view in a realistic way, although it is true that Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has not used the Ulsterman extensively during his tenure.

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Craig Gilroy celebrates his try with Louis Ludik Gilroy has recovered from a "wee niggle" in his hamstring to start against Glasgow. Source: Presseye/Darren Kidd/INPHO

Having won six caps so far, Gilroy is confident that he could add plenty of attacking quality to the mix for the global tournament.

“Fingers crossed, you know?” said Gilroy when asked about potential Ireland honours. “All I can really do is play the best I can on the pitch. I think every player who is eligible for the Irish jersey would be lying if they said they weren’t keen to be involved.

“It would be great and off the back of this season I think I’m in pretty good form and still have a lot to offer.”

Schmidt is a coach who values defensive qualities as much as attacking ability in his back three players, and in that sense this evening’s clash in Glasgow is a fine opportunity for Gilroy to impress.

Townsend’s side possesses a backline that has been lethal so far this season, and Gilroy is likely to be tested severely when the Scots are in possession.

Guys like Stuart Hogg, Niko Matawalu, Tommy Seymour, Peter Horne and [Richie] Vernon, even Finn Russell at 10, they’re all extremely good broken-field runners,” says Gilroy.

“I thought in the first half we dealt with that pretty well [during Ulster's 32-10 defeat in Glasgow last weekend]. Watching it, I was confident at half time but we saw how deadly they can be in the second half. Certainly we need to be on our toes defensively.”

Gilroy more than anyone if he is to be back in a green shirt in the coming months. The 23-year-old will take it all in his casual stride either way.

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