'It has been tough - but we're at a new level after it all'
The Big Interview: Conor Murray
Published 02/12/2016 | 02:30
Conor Murray has played 90 times for Munster and has 53 caps for Ireland but things have never looked so promising.
Anthony Foley would be a proud man if he saw the way his province and country responded to his untimely passing on October 16.
The reaction has been extraordinary from both sets of players: the results have been transformed and history was made on a weekly basis.
Just six days on from Axel's death, Conor Murray was part of the Munster side that shocked Glasgow with just 14 men on the field, to secure a famous 38-17 victory on an emotionally charged Champions Cup afternoon at Thomond Park.
Murray and a number of Irish team-mates were absent the following week as Munster secured a brilliant comeback win at Ulster.
And Munster went on to complete a clean sweep at home to Ospreys and Treviso in the Pro12, while their chief scrum-half was performing heroics on the international stage.
Ireland went through unprecedented success, as a first victory over reigning world champions New Zealand was followed by wins over Canada and Australia.
Murray (27) missed the game against Canada but he played the three other autumn internationals and has returned to Munster rejuvenated, and ready for action, next weekend.
"No, I haven't seen the Munster team more inspired, it's been incredible," says Murray. "It's been a really tough time, a strange few weeks. There seems to be a lot of heart there - there always was but it's magnified now and it's gone to a new level with Axel's passing away.
"You expected for something like that to happen, there would be a response, but it shows you what you can do as a team and it keeps you going.
"There is an exciting period ahead with massive games in it. These games will tell a lot about where the season is going to go."
Murray has only played five times for Munster in 2016-17 but he scored three tries along the way.
His biggest focus so far has been on the international front where Ireland have become the first team since England to beat South Africa, New Zealand and Australia in the calendar year. England went on win the World Cup after that in 2003.
Joe Schmidt's men have received high praise for their efforts and, Limerick native Murray knows it has been a massive few months for Ireland.
"It was crazy, there were some highs and lows but thankfully ended on a high which is all-important," he says.
"It started in Chicago and I don't need to say much about that. It was probably the most memorable day of my rugby career. It was an amazing way to start, it was an amazing week over there and to finish it off like that was incredible.
"I got a rest for the Canada game and then the New Zealand game back in Dublin was a really tough game. We were very disappointed with that game and that performance.
"But we dusted ourselves down last week; we knew we needed to end the series on a high if we were to be taken seriously as a team.
"Chicago did seem to be a long time ago when we were looking into the Australia game so we wanted to do something before we broke up.
"And while we made it difficult for ourselves with the backline, with scrum-halves on the wing and out-halves at full-back, we showed a lot of heart.
"It was a crazy game. In the first half we felt really good, but in the second half Australia were that team and they looked dangerous. But we ground it out which was a really good way to finish the November series.
"You can go away from camp now feeling good about what you did and you can put that to bed looking forward to hopefully being called in again around Six Nations time. But you can focus on Munster now, which is great."
Next up for Munster is Glasgow Warriors in Scotstoun this evening, and that is followed by back-to-back Champions Cup games against Leicester Tigers.
The hard work doesn't end there: Murray and his team-mates have games against Leinster and Connacht over Christmas, closely followed by huge European fixtures against Racing 92, Glasgow and the Parisians again.
Murray who made his debut for Munster in 2009-10, has a lot to look forward to with his new Masters in Project Management in UL, and the Six Nations in February, but his Munster duties will certainly keep him busy between now and then.
"Going back to this period with the inter-pros and the back-to-back games in Europe and Racing early in January - they are going to be our biggest tests this season so far," he says.
"We have had a few tests this year and we have got through them, and a few easier games as well. But this will be the making or breaking of our season, we will find out about players and squad-depth in the next eight weeks or so.
"But it's great to be back in Munster. The buzz and momentum has kept going since we last played against Glasgow.
"The lads have had a good few wins and everyone seems in good spirits. We are heading into a very busy period so it's something exciting to go back to.
"Last year we struggled for a few results around the World Cup. Coming back things were a bit difficult but there is more positivity now.
"And it looks set to be an exciting Christmas period."