Conor Murray: Everyone's primed for last hurrah, but we're just focused on the win
Published 15/05/2015 | 02:30
What a game that was to be involved in last weekend in Belfast! To come away from it with a draw was the least we deserved, but it leaves us in good shape ahead of tomorrow's final round of the season and our semi-final after that - wherever we'll end up!
Ravenhill was always a lively place to play in and the new Kingspan Stadium is no different. If anything, the size of the place makes it even louder. But I thought we managed the occasion very well and only for their late, late show, we would be sitting pretty in top spot.
Straight after the final whistle we were a small bit down to have let the win slip, we were just annoyed that we let them in and gave them the opportunity to draw the game.
I think overall, on reflection, we were happy with the preparation and performance though. We were in a strong position when we had the ball. I think we felt good and that we could apply pressure when we needed to and stretch them which we did at times.
I suppose if you cut out two minutes before half-time and you cut out the last minute of the game, we were in control. We were in a really good position to win the game only to be undone by some good Ulster play. Most importantly, we do need to finish these tight games out.
I thought the way we started the game set the tone for our performance. We won the ball from the kick-off and held onto it for nearly two minutes. That didn't give them or their crowd an opportunity to get into the game. That was a great way to start the game and I think we continued with that mindset throughout the rest of the first half and into the second half.
Paddy Jackson got deserved plaudits for his late kick to level the game, but I thought Ian Keatley was brilliant for us too. He was on the money under pressure early on and his three penalties gave us a good cushion. He had a great game, but that's no surprise to any of us. He puts in the time and effort and works hard on his skills.
While we were annoyed not to hold on at the end, sometimes defensive breaches occur when you are so close to your own line. It can be quite hectic there at times: things are happening so quickly and you're worried about someone attacking around the ruck from close range. It's a time when you can get caught off guard out wide and that's what happened to us. When you're that close to the line you have to hedge your bets somewhat, but that period all stemmed from the penalty we gave away on the halfway line, something we didn't need to do and I don't think we'll make that mistake again.
But even if we had produced the win in Belfast we would still have to go into tomorrow's match with the Dragons needing a win. It is incredible how tight the top four is this year with one point separating all of us.
The fact that everyone's game kicks off simultaneously at 3pm means you won't have much idea what's going on elsewhere, but I'm sure word will filter through at some stage. Things will to and fro in your favour and against you, but the one thing we know is that we have to win against the Dragons at Irish Independent Park and we can only focus on what's in front of us.
People can't really predict these things so it makes for great entertainment for the fans but it's up to us the players to focus our minds on the big prize at the end of it.
Looking at beyond the preparation and performance is always dangerous and we just need to make sure we complete the task at hand. To get the home semi-final we have to make sure we win, and against this Dragons outfit nothing is for certain.
Without doubt they are one of the most improved teams in the league this year. They got to the Challenge Cup semi-final and they turned over Leinster home and away, and Ulster over in Wales also.
In the past people would probably expect us to do quite well against them, but I don't think it will be like the Dragons of old, where you were expected to roll them over. Rest assured, we are in for one hell of a battle tomorrow against a quality side.
But the fact that we are already guaranteed some sort of a semi-final spot means this is the perfect game for us. You don't want to be playing a team where you get a handy points in the week before a semi-final. You want intense games at this time of the year and I'm sure Dragons will bring a big test tomorrow.
We were all delighted to see that CJ Stander and Tommy O'Donnell were named in the Pro12 team of the year during the week. They've both had great seasons and are well deserving of their awards.
And while we are all more focused on the team awards, it is always nice to be recognised for your performances as an individual. It means you are doing something right, but I'm sure they would both gladly trade them in for a win in Cork tomorrow.
It's amazing how clued in everyone is at the moment. Rugby is at the forefront of everyone's minds over the last few weeks and we hope to keep that intensity going for a few more games.
We want one final push, a few weeks of massive effort. Everyone is giving everything to the cause, and we intend to mark that effort with another win tomorrow.
Wherever we end up in the semi-finals, be it Belfast, Swansea, Glasgow or Limerick, we're ready for the challenge.