Craig Gilroy highlights Ulster team-mate ‘just getting better and better’

Craig Gilroy had just turned 21 years old when he scored one of Ulster’s greatest tries within the Heineken Cup across the quarter-final win over Munster at Thomond Park in 2012.

Monday, 20th December 2021, 8:00 am

From a scrum following a couple of carries, the winger got the ball just inside his own half and Gilroy was able to burn Denis Hurley for pace, cut inside to evade Felix Jones’ flailing tackle, avoid Simon Zebo’s attempt to stop him and still have enough power to stretch for the line despite Lifeimi Mafi trying to hold onto his ankles.

In Friday night’s win over Northampton, 21-year-old winger Ethan McIlroy scored a superb individual try for Ulster as he collected James Hume’s chip then, still with plenty to do, sold Courtnall Skosan an outrageous sidestep before sprinting for the line and able to break Ollie Sleigholme’s tackle to reach out for the line.

Gilroy believes McIlroy is set for a big future in the game.

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Ulster's Craig Gilroy. Pic by Pacemaker.

“He should have passed that to me, I was in acres of space, it was a walk-in for me,” joked Gilroy after the game about McIlroy’s impressive try. “Ethan is brilliant and he’s getting better and better, he has that bit of magic about him and he’s able to change direction at high speed, which makes him very difficult to defend.

“It’s a joy to watch, he’s still very young, he’s a lot of rugby ahead of him and he’s just getting better and better.

“He’ll pick up more experience and nights like Friday and last week will be great for him.

“He seems more and more comfortable on that big stage, as difficult as it is for me as another man in my position, I’ll enjoy the competition.

“I’ve only good things to say, we get on well, I enjoy his company and having a laugh with him.

“It’s great to see him push on, if I can help in any way I will but he seems to have it sussed really well.”

Gilroy feels with the wins over Clermont and Northampton, Ulster have exorcised the demons of last year’s Champions Cup campaign when they lost both pool games and had to drop into the Challenge Cup for the first time in their history.

“Last year hurt in a lot of ways, to be honest, it’s good to put that to bed and start afresh this season,” said Gilroy. “It’s been very close to feeling like a season pre-Covid if that makes sense, obviously there’s still a few wee things going on...tests.

“But when it comes to that Friday or Saturday night, it’s that feeling that this is what it’s all about, this is Ulster Rugby, everyone is here to watch us, friends, families, supporters and just being amongst that.”

“It’s much better this season and obviously we’ve had some good performances to back it up.”

Ulster are back in action on Boxing Day and while Gilroy can enjoy his Christmas dinner his focus will be on gaining revenge against Connacht for the defeat at the Aviva Stadium in October.

“I’ve been around the block now, I’ve had this enough times to know that you can enjoy Christmas but, for me anyway, at the forefront of the mind is Connacht at home,” he said. “I want to be playing, I want to be starting, I want to be enjoying that atmosphere again because it’s nights like Friday that remind you it’s the best job in the world.

“If some people think it’s going to ruin Christmas then maybe they shouldn’t be in this job.

“We can see our family, have a bit of dinner, but the game is the priority.

“Connacht coming up to us and certainly down at the Aviva we didn’t give a good account of ourselves and it wasn’t a good performance but as difficult as that was, I think we’ve responded well and taken what positives we could.”

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