Stuart McCloskey: I haven't given it my best shot so far - it's time to deliver

The Ulster centre is set for a rare appearance in green when Ireland take on Georgia in the Autumn Nations Cup this Sunday
Stuart McCloskey: I haven't given it my best shot so far - it's time to deliver

Stuart McCloskey training with Ireland during the week. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

This last nine months or more has tested everyone's patience. Stuart McCloskey has been stewing for five years.

The Ulster centre made his Ireland senior debut in Twickenham back in February of 2016. He did well enough to earn positive reviews from most observers but his second cap didn't follow until over 18 months later when he faced Fiji in Dublin.

His only appearance since then was another November run, this time against the USA, in 2018. Two years on from that third cap and here is again looking to kickstart a test career that has been stuck in neutral for far too long.

The last few weeks have been a trial in themselves. A member of Andy Farrell's 34-man squad from the start of this Autumn Nations Cup, he has had to look on from the sidelines as the side played Wales and England and there has been a spot of root canal work to endure too.

Reward beckons belatedly this Sunday as Georgia come to the Aviva Stadium and, while change will not be wholesale after last weekend's loss in Twickenham, McCloskey will be among the new faces drafted in after weeks of work on the training paddock, in front of a screen and in team meetings.

Impatient? You betcha.

“I've been very impatient probably for the last five odd years,” he admitted. “I've been in this position for a while. If I do get an opportunity hopefully I will take it, move forward, grasp it with both hands. The usual things. If I have a good game I can hopefully put some pressure on the other guys there.”

Talent

The other guys are hard to ignore in this story.

Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose have been the Holy Trinity of Irish centres for some time now. Chris Farrell has been the chief beneficiary when one or more of them has been unavailable – as Ringrose and Henshaw are this week.

McCloskey is 28 now and he can see the traffic jam extending in his rear-view mirror. Behind him in the queue for now are Leinster's Ciaran Frawley, who offers more of a playmaking option in the midfield, Munster's Rory Scannell and the Ulster pair of James Hume and Stewart Moore.

“There's a lot of talent there, maybe the most in any position in Ireland, so I have to be at my best if I get an opportunity and I want to move forward. If it doesn't come off then I can go off knowing I gave it my best shot.

I know I haven't given it my best shot so far. I just want to go out there and really deliver.

That sense of 'what if' stretches back to his first game, against England, when it took almost 40 minutes for the visitors to work a position where he could really attack the defensive line and there was always the sense that his face and penchant for an offload just doesn't fit with Joe Schmidt.

Farrell has targeted a more heads-up approach from his Irish team and, if that hasn't been all too apparent in games against the English and French heavyweights, then McCloskey still likes what he is seeing and hearing in training and camp in general.

The hope now is that this Sunday proves to be more than just another one-off.

"I remember playing (England in 2016) and thinking I did alright. I just didn't get another go and then the two games I had, I played alright. I was playing Fiji and the USA and unless you're tearing it up against them you're not getting another opportunity.

"So it's about hopefully playing well and getting another game on the back of it, really try to put my mark down. 

That's something I've been lucky with Ulster over the years, where I played game after game, and it's allowed me to gain a bit of form and really get a feel for the team.

"Looking back on it, I wish I put more of my mark on that first game against England. Maybe I was just trying to fit in a bit too much.”

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