Making the grade
Ruaidhri O'Connor talks to former Newbridge star Sam Coghlan Murray about balancing books with big games, and graduating to the Leinster academy
SAM Coghlan Murray doesn't miss the butterflies that schoolboys around the country are feeling at this time of year. He's had his time and is moving on.
For the last two years, Newbridge College's star full-back was on tenterhooks, training hard for the all-important Senior Cup opener, hoping and praying that this might be his and his schoolmates' year.
As is the nature of a ruthless knockout environment, the calm before the storm is often the most enjoyable part for participants. Dreams are intact, and the reality that only one squad can reach the Promised Land and lift the Cup on St Patrick's Day is still a distant prospect.
For Coghlan Murray, the dream was to go out the window last February as the impressive St Michael's machine were just too strong for the Kildare school, who gave everything but didn't have the firepower.
They regrouped, kept their heads up and went on to win the Leinster Senior Plate, something which didn't grab the headlines but will be discussed at their reunions for years to come. Some silverware to share before heading out into the real world to get on with their lives, ending the school's 14-year wait for a senior trophy.
The standout player of the team, the pacey outside back had always seemed destined to stay in the game, but his rugby wasn't about to stop him pursuing his studies -- so he combines his place in the Leinster Academy with his Business and Legal Studies course at UCD.
Undoubtedly, he is making the fastest progress of any of the class of 2010 in Leinster. A starting spot and a try at the Aviva Stadium opening match last August was a nice way to start a promising senior career, and he now learns from Luke Fitzgerald, Rob Kearney and Brian O'Driscoll at training.
It's the fruition of a distinguished schools rugby career, one which ended in April. His and Newbridge College's season started in Australia and ended in Barnhall where they saw off King's Hospital in the Plate final.
Much has been made of the commitment that goes into a Senior Cup season, so what did it take to prepare?
An unbeaten tour of Australia and New Zealand was a decent opener and a strong bonding experience.
"We won all of our games on a tour of Australia and New Zealand so it was a great start," he says.
"We toured around Brisbane for a while and Sydney and we had our first game against Canberra.
"We were in Australia for 10 days and went to New Zealand for the rest of the month. We played and won four games over there."
Coached by New Zealander Andy Melville and games officer David Brew, with input from Old Belvedere's Phil Werahiko, they immediately set about their programme for the season.
"They were good coaches, they communicated well and they let you play the way you want to play," Coghlan Murray says.
"At the start we did a fair bit of fitness and conditioning work outside. We didn't do a huge amount of gym work, it was left up to yourself so if you wanted to do it you would. We did an hour every day on skills, patterns, tackling and rucking and that sort of thing.
"We had games week in, week out so you had to focus on those each week rather than looking to the Cup."
Despite producing a host of recent internationals, including Jamie Heaslip, Geordan Murphy and Tony Buckley, Newbridge is a mixed school and therefore it's playing numbers are affected.
As a result, they needed to use the League to ensure they had a go at the Cup at all.
"We had to qualify for the Cup, we did that and then over the Christmas break we did more indoor work, with circuits and we started doing more weights and fitness work to keep you ready for the Cup.
"It really goes into Cup mode from the Christmas break for the first round."
Coghlan Murray was also representing Leinster and Ireland at Schools level, so apart from the daily routine of training before heading to after-school study -- there were Ireland camps, weights programmes and Leinster inter-provincials.
It made for a hectic year, but little could match the buzz in the build-up to the opening round clash with St Michael's in February.
Unfortunately, it wasn't to be.
"The buzz is good," he recollects. "There are a lot of rugby followers in the school.
"It's not everyone's cup of tea, and those people don't get involved, but there is a big following, the crowd and the people that get involved in the game. There is always a great crowd at the Cup games, junior or senior. All the people are wishing you luck, the teachers lay off on you with work in the build-up.
"It was deflating, losing to Michael's. All the work that we'd put in hadn't paid off. We just wanted to win silverware in the end, and we said as a team and with the coaching staff that we weren't going to let it put us off, we were going to push to win the Plate and that was the highlight of our season.
"It shows the squad wanted to play rugby together. It didn't go well for us in the Cup, but everyone had the application and interest to go on for the Plate, which goes on for another month after the Cup finishes."
Worried parents might want to look away now, as Coghlan Murray explains the dual commitment of being a top schools rugby star and a Leaving Cert student don't always go hand in hand.
"It was tough," he admits. "With the Senior Cup, you have study after your training sessions and you won't get home until after 10 at night. It is a tough lifestyle.
"That's just with school, when you get to representative then the whole Easter break, when everyone is knuckling down to study, we are off playing rugby. We might get half an hour or an hour during the day but it's not enough. You just have to put the head down after the rugby and give it a go for the few weeks you have."
The hard work has paid off, now the 18-year-old rubs shoulders with some big names at training sessions, while he still makes his lectures when he is able to. The workload has gone up since moving to the academy, but you sense he wouldn't want it any other way.
"The intensity does increase a lot from when you leave school to when you go into the Academy," he says. "It's completely different, your whole life is geared towards rugby rather than whatever else you used to do.
"It is a thrill when you're defending against (Leinster's big names), you want to try and learn something new each time you go out there.
"It's not the run of the mill training session, you are trying to test yourself against the best players there are."
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