Stuart McCloskey: Centre's Ireland debut no surprise at old school

By Thomas NiblockBBC Sport NI
Stuart McCloskey during Ireland training at Twickenham on Friday
Stuart McCloskey replaces his injured Ulster colleague in the Ireland team to face England on Saturday
Six Nations: England v Ireland
Venue: Twickenham Date: Saturday, 27 February Kick-off: 16:50 GMT
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In the phone of David Kennedy, rugby coach at Bangor College, Ireland's new inside centre is saved simply as 'Shoots McCloskey'.

"Well, we previously called him 'babyface', because of his boyish features as a youngster but, once he hit lower sixth, he just shot up!" recalls Kennedy. "His physical demeanour completely changed. That's where 'Shoots' comes from."

Centre Stuart McCloskey is now the same weight and height as back row Stephen Ferris was when he first started playing for Ulster.

"He's not just about power and strength. Stuart is creative," says Kennedy.

"And that reflects what he was like at school. In modern rugby that creativity is beaten out of players, it can be seen as a weakness, too dangerous, too loose."

The rise of McCloskey was not unexpected in the corridors of Bangor Grammar.

For three years, he played for the college firsts, not as a centre but at fly-half.

Then, while still at school, he appeared for the Dungannon senior side in the Ulster League.

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"We have these conversations all the time in the staff room - who will make it? It genuinely isn't a surprise.

"Stuart always had it. I firmly believe his career is only starting. I believe he can go further."

In the Ireland camp this week, coach Joe Schmidt recalled the first time McCloskey grabbed his attention: "When I first saw him squaring up and carrying ball and getting behind a defensive line."

McCloskey's Ulster and now Ireland team-mate Andrew Trimble adds: "He's got confidence, but it's the right kind of confidence.

"I can't wait to see him play on Saturday night."

And, of course, as McCloskey's old teacher can verify, there's a great buzz around the Bangor school for the former pupil.

"Stuart is a guy that the students here all feel they know. We're all very proud. He's a role model for our students."

There's very little the teacher can do now except, like the rest of the rugby world, sit back and watch his old pupil 'Shoots' do his thing.

Twitter: @thomasniblockexternal-link

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