Sunday 24 September 2017

Punished by Murphy's Law -- but still on upward curve

Johne Murphy
Johne Murphy
David Kelly

David Kelly

He should know Murphy's Law better than anyone.

Last Saturday, Johne Murphy tripped up -- literally -- in Thomond Park with the line at his mercy. Then a missed tackle on Craig Gilroy. All that just seconds after butchering a try-scoring pass to Felix Jones.

What eats him is that when Gilroy was tearing down his channel, Murphy was still cursing himself for dropping the pill a minute earlier.

Sport demands you live in this moment, not the last one.

At Leicester, Matt O'Connor -- what Munster wouldn't give for his expertise! -- used to hammer home the message; quality involvement, quality involvement.

"It's about forgetting it and moving on," says the Rathangan man, "and I'm getting a lot better on that. I've been working with a sports psychologist, to move on and just forget it."

PROCESS

He's nailed it on the golf course; transferring the process to the rugby field is the next step.

Depending on who you talked to down Munster way as contract renewal time approached in March, the news on Murphy wavered wildly.

His goose was cooked, said some.

Young bucks like Luke O'Dea, Sean Scanlon and Simon Zebo were edging him out of the picture.

With the coach who signed him also bailing out, it was time to shake hands and part.

Not so, cried others.

Hadn't Murphy featured in every game bar one, with his versatility across the three-quarters and relative immunity from injury marking him down as an indispensable squad player?

Ultimately, Murphy got the two-year deal. But you will still find opinion divided down Munster way.

He's a jack of all trades, master of none. Where's the consistency? Where's the class that shone so brightly for Leicester?

Well, pull up a chair folks because Murphy agrees.

This season, he has moved position 12 times and was benched for Munster's biggest game of the season, the Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat to Ulster, prompting further soul-searching.

Curiously, Murphy speaks in the patois of those of us who like to compile ratings. And don't be fooled; it's the first item every player reads.

"This year has probably been a consistent one, going up to 6, 7, or 8 out of 10," he reveals.

"I've been struggling to get those 9 or 10/10 marks that every player wants and it's been frustrating for me that way, because I feel like I've so much more in me to give. But I still think that I'm doing OK.

"Saturday was a perfect example. I probably had 79 minutes of 6-7/10 and then I had 90 seconds to turn it into an 8 or 9. And I didn't."

His current travails are far removed from his early days here, arriving off the back of his status as an English title-winner and the club's leading try-scorer before he left.

Ostensibly starting life as a full-back with Munster, he was shifted around the three-quarters regularly. But he loved it. For a while. Ireland was even mentioned but an injury during the famous Munster win against Australia in late 2010 put paid to those notions and, mirroring the province, his subsequent story has been more about failing to fulfil expectations, rather than surpassing them.

"When I first came here, I found that my graph, on a performance level, hit straight up, everything was going brilliantly.

"In a couple of games, I was in four different positions and I was loving it. I was performing really well.

"I was named in the Ireland squad for the autumn internationals and I was as close as I've ever been to playing for Ireland.

"I let that niggly injury against Australia get to me mentally and my graph then started to slowly decline.

"Mentally, I think now I'm in a much better place than I was this time last year. Formwise I'm certainly a lot better."

LOWDOWN

He's already spoken to his old team-mate, the cerebral genius that is Aaron Mauger, to get the lowdown on incoming coach Rob Penney. Murphy has a message for him.

"I'm not like Earlsy, I don't have the capabilities of being the best 13 in the world.

"I'll never doubt my abilities or anything like that, but I work very hard to get where I am.

"I've always stuck to it and I'll always say it -- I'd love to play 15 and I'd love to have a consistent run at full-back.

"But if he asks me to play from 12 out, I'd be like: 'It doesn't bother me'. I'm prepared to suck it up and get on with it as long as I get on the pitch."

He's enjoying life back home. It's only an hour or so spin to his girlfriend's house in Kildare. He attends the family occasions he would always have to miss when he was based in England.

Now he is just determined to repay the faith which Munster have placed in him.

"I'm in a much better place," he explains, "I am ready to build for the next two weeks, hopefully, and be really ready to hit the ground running when Rob comes in."

Irish Independent

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