Murray determined to hit the ground running
Published 28/07/2016 | 02:30
Shortly after 11am tomorrow morning, Conor Murray's pulse will accelerate in anticipation of the sudden jolt from a starting pistol.
BANG! And there goes another pre-season. Murray's preparation will begin beneath the watchful eye of Munster strength and conditioning coach Aidan O'Connell in the province's new permanent UL HQ.
The dreaded 1k test. Ten lengths of the pitch. Those of us recall similar exams from school days; except these were Sunday morning affairs, designed primarily to expose the sneaky flagon wielders from the night before.
This is professional sport, though. There will be no humiliating press-ups to pinpoint guilt. Just love. But love in the first degree. Serious love. Tough love.
And, with a new coaching regime in place, July is a bit early to be asking for lashings of tough love from hard-nosed South Africans with nothing but ruthless business on their minds.
"I've a day to build it up," Murray confides. "It's tough. I have a target time of 3:27; my best is 3:31 so it should be alright. If I don't hit the target, it means you're not coming back fit enough.
"So you'll probably get an extra little bit of love after sessions. And not the kind of love you really want!"
Murray will make the time; only Usain Bolt being downed by a Zika-spearing mosquito and failing to emerge from next month's Rio 100m semi-final would be a bigger shock.
"I've been training away," he adds easily, after a summer spent enhancing his reputation as one of the world's finest scrum-halves during the scintillating 2-1 series defeat in South Africa.
"I went to Portugal last week with my family and there was a gym there. I would be getting itchy feet anyway.
"If you didn't do anything and just came back into high-intensity training, you'd probably get injured, so it's just to make sure you're fit to go into the hard stuff. For the first time in a long time I do feel fully relaxed and eager. My body feels good to have a crack off another season."
Munster remain a big noise whatever about their recent slump on the field; launching a new rugby shirt in July might hint at hubris to some; in reality, it represents their lingering reputation in their sport.
Now, however, they must begin to translate their status to the very business that got them into the realms of big business in the first place. Winning trophies - something they haven't done in five years; effectively a generation in a professional sport that only recently came of age.
Munster enter this campaign amidst a coaching overhaul; two South African heavy hitters, Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber, linking up with some retained locals and the addition of ex-player Felix Jones.
If it all smacks wearily of transition, Murray, a more than occasional captain, will hear none of it. The impatience of despondent supporters has begun to seep through dressing-room walls too often inured to peripheral grumbling.
"I really want to win something with Munster again, with your home team. It's something that's missing.
"It's not an eagerness to start a new chapter but to kick on and I think Jacques and Rassie hopefully will give us that boost we need to be more competitive. It's not as if we need a bedding-in period or a transition phase. It's going to be massive for us to hit the ground running.
"We need to understand how we want to play. It's not as if we need a year to figure it out with Rassie; it has to be pretty much immediate.
"With the new training centre on top of that as well, it just feels like you're going back to almost a new club. It's probably well-timed after what happened last year. It's a new philosophy, a new voice."
The indigenous voices were largely silenced in the spring but some local accents will remain. And some remnants of style, too.
"The way we've been trying to play in the breakdown, which we've been using for the last year, is still there.
"A lot of the stuff we were doing and doing well, we have to hold onto. There are other parts of our game that weren't so good that hopefully Rassie, Jacques and Felix and a few more will try and fix. The foundation is there and we want to make it a bit stronger and more watertight. Hopefully, that will bring results.
"I met Rassie in Johannesburg before we played South Africa and he just seemed like a really enthusiastic guy who knows his rugby.
"He was itching to get over when I met him, he was itching to move over and get started with the lads to put his stamp on the things.
"You have to get on as a coaching group to make it work and the initial impression I get from speaking to the lads is that everyone has, not wiped last year under the carpet, but has forgotten about the badness and wants to make forward, make it work."
The new Munster Alternate kit was launched by the players yesterday at Cork's Mahon Point Shopping Centre and is available exclusively at Life Style Sports