CONNACHT’S CILLIAN GALLAGHER is one of the few men back for a second year with Nigel Carolan’s U20s after the impressive win over New Zealand last term.
The imposing pack leader will take charge of a unit which looks, on paper, to be under-powered compared to the 2016 edition. But the Sligo man happily uses such outside notions as fuel to drive himself and those around him.
“Last year we had a team who was statistically very big. It didn’t mean we always dominated. When we dominated we had our mindset right. We came together as a pack and we executed everything as an eight with unbelievable aggression and persistence.”
That’s the attitude Gallagher will take into tomorrow’s Six Nations opener away to Scotland. He will start from his favoured position on the blindside, a relatively free role after it was expected he would be “put back home” in the second row. Despite bulking up considerably since the summer, he is still confident he has the mobility to do damage as a number six.
Despite the terrific run for the U20s in Manchester, Gallagher calls 2016 an up and down year as his Junior World Championship was cut short by a shoulder injury in the win over Georgia. Since undergoing surgery on his shoulder ligaments he has played just a handful of games in the colours of Corinthians, Connacht Eagles and Ireland’s warm-ups.
“It was a thought process more than anything else for six months,” Gallagher says in his deep booming Sligo drawl.
“I had all the mental skills in my head, but I didn’t know if my body would be able to do them. It was a learning process for those few games coming back. I had a great run last year, played 23 games I think so I constantly built, built and built.
“Personally, I know I have to do things a certain way because of my body shape and physicality, I have to put myself properly into tackles, carries or hits because I know I won’t get away with another way.
“I felt I had to re-learn coming back, coming in to these games I’m 100%. I feel I’m back where I was in the World Cup and maybe a bit higher.”
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Gallagher in a warm-up match against Leinster with Martin Mulhall in support. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
A year older, a year further out of his comfort zone and relishing the prospect of continuing to work under the tutelage of Nigel Carolan.
“The things I learned last year: ‘this worked, this didn’t work’ that’s what I’m going to try and share as much as I can,” says Gallagher.
“It’s a learning process for everyone. I’ll learn more this year again. But I’ll learn from them (U20 debutants) too. We’ll all learn as a group. That’s the thing about Nigel, everyone wants to learn all the time and everyone wants to improve.
“It’s an uncomfortable environment, because putting yourself out there to learn is uncomfortable but once you’re comfortable being uncomfortable that’s when the team thrives, that’s when everyone brings their game up.”
The discomfort and education begins tomorrow night at 20.30.
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