Tuesday 16 January 2018

Murray's growth spurt showing no signs of slowing down

Conor Murray is aiming to repeat his international heroics in Europe with Munster. Photo: Sportsfile
Conor Murray is aiming to repeat his international heroics in Europe with Munster. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Conor Murray should have stopped growing by now. Instead, he is getting taller.

We chart these things, you see. According to the internet, in 2012, he was a plain old six-footer; a couple of years later, he had ascended to 6' 1".

On a dank morning in Limerick, he strides purposefully into the room and we know he is, and has been for a while now, 6' 2" (1.88m for the Europhiles amongst you).

In school, we learned that we all grow a little every morning - about a centimetre - before the day's wear and tear depresses our joints and cartilage. We all retire to bed that bit smaller than when we emerged from it just hours before.

Not Murray, it seems. He continues to grow; he should have stopped at 21 but his rise remains incessant. And it is not only measured in height.

As he lays down a prepared meal of what seems like a variety of twigs and immobile snails - vegetarian pasta someone informs us - the 27-year-old exudes an aura of contentment with his place in the grand scheme of things.

Indispensable

His quiet confidence seems wonderfully unshakeable; November demonstrated that perhaps he, and not Jonathan Sexton, is Ireland's most indispensable player.

This weekend he will tackle Leicester star Ben Youngs, in what may be the first of a trio of direct auditions for the famous number nine red jersey in New Zealand next summer.

But that is jumping ahead of ourselves; at this moment, Murray is just wallowing in that cherished, but so elusive, certainty of knowing just how good everything feels in his game. Few sportsmen achieve such comfort in their professional lives; one must attempt to surf its wave with as much rolling contentment as one can muster.

"I feel really good," he beams. "Just since the South Africa tour, I've taken on more of a leadership role. It's not necessarily talking more. I just feel a bit more comfortable in the group, not just in Ireland but in here too.

"I feel confident about my own game and that allows you play a lot better. If you have got a few hang-ups in your head about your form, and if things aren't going your way selection-wise, it is difficult to get to that place.

"But it has just been a good month for me and I feel really, really good about my game. My body feels really good, really fit, that's half the battle. If you can be injury-free and playing week in, week out, you build that form.

"I am in a good place right now. It's going to be a good year but I am happy with the start I have made. But there are going to be massive challenges ahead."

There wasn't any particular Damascene moment of conversion for Murray in graduating from lieutenant to general; it has simply coincided with his stealthy rise to prominence in terms of status to where he is now arguably just as important to Ireland as the man outside him.

"I wouldn't chase that," he observes. "It's unnatural for me to chase that. It forms over time with experience and being around the lads and being in the group and getting used to the coaches, and being comfortable expressing ideas or disagreeing with things which is probably harder to do. That feeling when you are a player and you are disagreeing with a coach who essentially can pick you or drop you at the weekend. It's just being comfortable with that and being confident enough to chase that down.

"There was never one point. I think just the games that happened, the big games and big crowds, and what was at stake, that probably brings more out of you, that definitely brings more out of me.

"When the big games are on I just feel there is a bit more of a buzz about me and there is something extra in the week which is nice."

Such is his comfort in assuming responsibility, he does so without necessarily cranking up the pressure on others by being a crank himself. Well, not all the time, at least.

"I would usually be quite relaxed but if it's a big week and training isn't going that well I would be kind of cranky and you would go home in a bad mood, like most sports people if training didn't go that well, and come back in the next day and try and fix it.

"I would be a mixture of both but on a big week like this week every other player will be the same. I know when we go out on the pitch this week, there will be an edge. People want to get things right.

Intensity

"You want an intensity to training on a week like this. If it's not there then people are trying to chase it and people get cranky. The first few days of training are really important for this weekend and hopefully the intensity and the buzz is there. From experience, during European weeks it's actually not that hard to find."

It might seem as if nothing can top the intensity of November but, with two derbies and three European matches to come in the next five weeks, if anything, the pressure is being ratcheted up even more.

Munster's international reputation has been enhanced, too, compared to recent years when it dwindled alarmingly, casting them adrift as the fourth province in terms of representation; there is an added buzz in the province now as Billy Holland, Rory Scannell, John Ryan et al have all stepped up.

"It's great and that's a sign of what's happening here with the one centre and the good performances that we are putting in," he enthuses.

"It's yet to get to the tough stage of the season but the signs are pretty positive. Joe recognises that and the other Irish selectors recognise that and it's great to see."

But you never forget where you come from, as Murray smilingly admits of his first day back in Limerick last week.

"Maybe the first day," he says of the re-adjustment, "if you are in a meeting and you are talking about certain call the lads will slag you; 'you are not up in Irish camp now, come back down to us.'"

It will not, however, take Murray long to come down to earth. Even as he scales ever far-reaching heights.

Irish Independent

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