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Ethan McIlroy: Ulster back 'doesn't remember much' of facial fracture

Ethan McIlroy
Ethan McIlroy was injured after being tackled by Shane Daly (right) [Inpho]

It was a cold November night when Ulster were playing Irish rivals Munster at Kingspan Stadium.

Munster were leading in the early stages of the game when Ethan McIlroy spotted a gap and took a dive towards the Munster line.

However, instead of the famous Ravenhill roar to celebrate a try, there was an eerie silence.

As he tried to touch down, McIlroy had collided with Shane Daly and his head hit the turf. Surrounding players immediately called for assistance and, after walking off the pitch when he regained consciousness, the 23-year-old was taken to hospital for treatment.

The prognosis was a fractured eye socket and concussion, and the Ulster full-back admitted he doesn't "remember much of the exact incident".

"As you can probably imagine, it was a tough bang to take," he said.

"I was looked after really well on the night. The staff, physios and the doctor got me to the hospital, got everything sorted and then there was no rush for getting me back in.

"I had a bit of a fracture in my eye, so there was no rush to get me back in concussion-wise, with the normal routine to get back in."

McIlroy made his return to action as a replacement against Ospreys at the end of January and now he is looking to help the province reach the United Rugby Championship play-offs.

Despite such a heavy injury, he says he isn't feeling any ill-effects of his time of the sidelines.

"I had plenty of time to get back on my feet and get back into shape," he said.

"I had no real symptoms after that. There was no rush to get me back into any contact because of the eye socket so I had plenty of time, weeks and weeks, to get back on my feet and get into contact.

"I felt fully confident getting back in there and building myself into that game scenario."

'It didn't dampen my confidence'

Ethan McIlroy made his return with Ulster against Ospreys at the end of January
Ethan McIlroy made his return with Ulster against Ospreys at the end of January [Inpho]

McIlroy adds that his confidence has not been knocked by the incident that led him to spending two months on the sidelines.

"The last season or two, I didn't play a lot of rugby so coming into this year I had a big focus on getting back to where I was with my confidence," he added.

"I was really going after it in training, building that confidence and being the best I could be out on the pitch.

"This season, before the injury, I felt really good again.

"The injury was a bit of a setback but it didn't really dampen my confidence and I've felt pretty confident in these recent games."

After a defeat by Sharks on the first leg of their South African tour at the weekend, Ulster take on the Stormers on Saturday in Cape Town.

The Stormers scored a last-gasp converted try to knock Ulster out of the United Rugby Championship semi-finals in 2022 and McIlroy says it is fine margins that will determine whether Ulster leave South Africa with victory or empty-handed.

"The semi-final was memorable, playing that game. That last kick at the end was pretty devastating for the season we were having," he said.

"That's how tough it is. It's those fine margins and you have to really be on the money when you are over there playing against them.

"We have all the confidence in the world that when we are on our game, if we get together, we can beat them and have a good game."