MICHAEL LOWRY: Feature focus on the latest rising star in Ulster

Michael Lowry
Michael Lowry

Until a fortnight ago, it was through the Ulster Schools’ Cup that the spotlight fell on exciting prospect Michael Lowry.

He captained Royal Belfast Academical Institution to a third successive winning final in 2017.

It was straight into the Abbey Insurance Ulster Academy and, along with Inst team mate, James Hume, the future looked good.

Injury kept him out of progressing further, but, this year during the pre-season friendlies he made his first senior Ulster appearance at outhalf.

Dan McFarland’s needs within the squad two weeks ago, saw Lowry handed his competitive start and on no bigger occasion than a Heineken Champions Cup opener against Leicester Tigers at Kingspan Stadium.

Playing at fullback, after a slightly shaky start under the high ball, Lowry was one of the big talking points after the game.

For those who perhaps had only heard about the potential talent oozing from this baby faced lad - it was clearly evident.

He was robbed off a try on his debut by a high tackle from England’s George Ford, but Lowry did end up on a winning side for his first cap, Ulster taking the victory 24-10.

If was then off to Paris for a tough challenge against Racing 92 last week indoors at La Defense Arena last Saturday.

A 44-12 scoreline saw Ulster come back down to earth with a bump, and even if the scoreline might have been slightly lopsided, the French side were simply further on in terms of progress and there were not too many 20-year-old rookies in their ranks.

Lowry ended up in the headlines once again, although it had nothing to do with him, rather the childish antics of former Irish international and Munster winger, Simon Zebo.

The three-quarter taunted Lowry as he raced past him to go over for a try.

Referee, Nigel Owens was having none of the playground antics and insisted that Zebo apologised.

It probably brought more attention to the matter than was needed. Zebo apologised on the pitch and on social media, after the match in the changing rooms to the Ulster players and even gave Lowry his shirt.

Lowry was unfazed by it all.

“I expected it to be on social media a wee bit but I think it’s blown up a bit.

“At the time I didn’t think much of it to be fair, I think he just got a bit excited, like most people would in front of their home fans in that stadium.

“I tried not to put too much on social media, just apology accepted, he apologised and we made up.

“I didn’t think about an apology, to be fair, at all.

“I was just thinking next play sort of thing, but looking back on it, it’s nice to see he came over and apologised.”

From a social media point of view, Lowry’s Twitter account certainly became popular - although it had already started to grow after coverage off him almost scoring against Leicester the week previously.”

“My followers went up massively so I was over the moon!,” he laughed.

“In terms of that respect it was quite good.”

As for all the fuss, Lowry just wants to get on with it and focus on the next task ahead - although he probably enjoyed some of the fame for a while over the weekend as videos went viral.

“When you see videos published online all the time about rugby players, you never think that one day that could be you.

“When I went out on Saturday night I was looking at newsfeeds and it was all of me and Zebo.

I didn’t expect it to be fair, I expected a bit of tweeting and some statuses, but I didn’t think it’d be published on every single website.”

It is his rising talent on the pitch, however, that has been catching the eye.

Last season it was all talk about the exciting prospect who was coming through, but Lowry had to bide his time with injury.

“Last year was a tough year, I took those nine months out just to get right and I think it was a blessing in disguise really.

“I got stronger and fitter as well.

“I did a lot of work with David Drake and he prepared me really really well,

“I wasn’t running lengths basically, I was mixing with my fitness, doing handling drills and kicking drills that would have me blowing, and I wasn’t running for the sake of running.

“He prepared me really well and got me ready for it physically, and then mentally I just chatted with the coaches through plays and then at the end of last season

“I started to integrate into training, and then through pre-season it was the same and then I finally got an opportunity to play.”

And he has not looked back since.

“Obviously, it’s been an incredible experience (the past two weeks).

“This time last year, I never thought I’d be playing in Europe against Racing and Leicester.

“Especially in that arena (in Paris) was incredible, I don’t think anything’s been ever like that.

“All the senior boys were saying like, it’s the most incredible thing they’ve ever seen.

“Obviously I’ve been over the moon to get in the squad and to get playing and to get 80 minutes in both games.”

Lowry looked quite relaxed in both games and he admitted he tries to be like that before games.

“I try to be quite relaxed before games but also through the week I’ll be, you know, thinking about everything.

“Before the Leicester game, I was thinking they’re going to definitely target me in the air and they did.

“The first high ball went up, the way the ball went, I didn’t get on to it but the rest of them I had the confidence just to go for it after that and I think it’s really important to have a bit of confidence, going through the training week, to have confidence going into the game, it’s really important to have that and try to be calm.

“If you get too nervous...obviously, nerves can be a good thing and I do get butterflies the odd time before games but once you’re...once the whistle goes, you have to be ice in the head.”

And he is comfortable with how he has done so far, but he knows he has plenty of work ahead.

“I’ve been happy enough with my performances so far and I think some people won’t realise the individual mistakes, some of the mistakes you’ll make during a game but the coaches will realise and I think it’s important to keep on top of that.

“I’ll be really hard on myself, (if I’m) making little mistakes, that not a lot of people will notice during a game, like if you’re meant to be at a certain ruck, maybe things like that but in general, I’ve been pretty happy with my performances so far.”

Lowry has played at outhalf, centre and fullback and is comfortable with any of them.

“Playing fullback is quite new for me but playing 10 I think it helps at full-back, you’ll know the call in terms of spacing, especially in terms of back-field, you’ll know where the fullback should be in terms of whether he’s going to kick to the corner or not.

“I think it helps and especially as a second receiver, you can come into that second receiver position and have a bit more freedom as such but I think, learning from the likes of JP (defence coach Jared Payne), defensively has helped a lot playing fullback.

As for the long term future, positional wise, Lowry admits he wants to play at outhalf.

“That is where I would like to go, but at the minute, I’m really happy to be playing fullback and getting on the team.

“I think it’s important to have a couple of positions that you can play and it definitely helps your options.”

Lowry’s feet are back down on the ground again after two big weeks and the focus is now on the Guinness PRO14 and a home fixture with Dragons.

“It’s really important to get a win this weekend,” he said.