The Abbey Insurance Academy Player of the Year looks back on his meteoric rise to the first XV this season – and forward to the Guinness PRO14 semi-final with Glasgow Warriors…
The 2018/19 campaign has been something of a whirlwind for versatile Ulster back Michael Lowry. An Academy player as the season began, Lowry has amassed 16 senior caps since his debut against Munster in September, started in the quarter-finals of both the PRO14 and the Heineken Champions Cup, and last week took home the prestigious Abbey Insurance Academy Player of the Year award at the annual Heineken Ulster Rugby Awards Ceremony.
The 20-year-old, who edged out fellow prospects Robert Baloucoune and Angus Kernohan to lift the award – and was also nominated for BT Young Player of the Year – is typically modest about the recognition.
“I’m pretty humbled to receive the award with so many other Academy boys coming through this year,” he says. “Plus, with everyone playing so unbelievably well, it’s nice to receive such an honourable reward.”
Lowry, whose first season in the Academy was a virtual write-off due to a persistent groin injury, is quick to attribute his success to both the coaching set-up at the club and the influence of his team-mates, veterans and fellow newcomers alike.
“I never would have thought that I’d get such an opportunity,” he explains, “and I’m thankful to the coaches for giving me the chance to get a few games under my belt.
“The likes of Will (Addison) and Billy (Burns) have come over and made a great impact; they’ve helped me a lot. Even though Cavey [Darren Cave] is leaving this year he’s been brilliant with us. He’s been pretty hard on us, but I think that’s what we need as younger players, to realise what it takes to be the best.
“It’s good to have a lot of young boys and Academy players coming through as well. Even on away trips where you’re not the only one going over, because having a young group of players there makes it easier to join in with the older players. You don’t feel as shy, as such, as there’s a bigger group.”
The youngster’s progress is even more remarkable given the fact that only one of his 16 appearances this term – in the 7-0 win at Ospreys in February – was at his preferred position of out-half, from which he led his schoolboy side RBAI to three consecutive Danske Bank Schools’ Cup titles.
“Playing at 15 is something that I wanted to try out anyway,” he says, “but with the more senior boys at 10 I thought maybe to get a chance I would have to change position or have another position I could play just to help out the squad, and hopefully that’s what I’ve done.”
Although the end-of-season awards have already been presented, Lowry is well aware that Ulster’s campaign is far from over, and insists the team is primed to go all the way in the Guinness PRO14, starting with this Friday’s semi-final clash with Glasgow Warriors.
“We’re really excited as it’s a second chance for us,” he admits, in reference to the disappointment of the Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat to Leinster.
“The PRO14 quarter-final against Connacht was a second chance already, and this is another chance for us to prove that we’re a very good team and can go on and win the competition. It’s going to be tough work as Glasgow are a great side with threats all across the park, but we’re really hungry for it now.”
And the youngster is confident that Ulster’s last trip to Scotstoun – which ended in a comprehensive 30-7 defeat – can only have a positive influence on the team come Friday night.
“We can learn from the last game, but it’ll bring us motivation as well. Going from the Champions Cup quarter-final into that game mightn’t have helped with the boys being a bit fatigued and whatnot, but I think there’s an extra bit of buzz around us now. It’s going to be a tough test for sure, but it’s one we can overcome,” he concludes.