Sport Rugby

Sunday 22 April 2018

Frustrated Murray convinced they are close to putting the pieces back together

Ireland's Conor Murray, Rob Kearney and Paddy Jackson in conversation during the captain's run at the Aviva Stadium
Ireland's Conor Murray, Rob Kearney and Paddy Jackson in conversation during the captain's run at the Aviva Stadium
Conor George

Conor George

IT is said you have to live with someone to know them, but you will inevitably learn a lot if you just room with them.

Everyone has peccadilloes that are unique. Some are less noticeable than others.

Conor Murray and Keith Earls' relationship goes back to their school days in St Munchin's College in Limerick. Earls was a year ahead of Murray but they played on the same teams in school and became friends.

Both joined the Munster set-up on leaving school and even though Earls broke into the senior side earlier, that friendship stayed strong. It was then only logical that the pair would room together when Murray joined Earls in the international set-up on his call-up to the 2011 World Cup squad.

They've roomed together with Ireland and Munster since then. Although not always as smoothly as you might imagine.

"I swear he's got some form of attention disorder thing going on. It's like a switch flicks in his head at night and the quiet Earlsy disappears," revealed Murray this week.

"All the lads have noticed it. Like clockwork. At 8.0, Keith goes nuts. He's jumping on the bed, giddy all the time, winding fellas up.

"You'd be down having a massage and he'll wander by and whack you on the head. No one seems to be able to pin-point why it happens."

Murray has even asked Earls' partner if he's like that at home with her and their baby daughter. No one has been able to shed some light on it.

"There's only one way to calm him down and that's to send him off for a couple of camomile teas! It's weird though. From 8.0 to maybe 10.30 when he goes to bed, it's a very different Keith Earls. He might have gone through the day without saying a word and then, boom, he's a different bloke."

The ease of the relationship between room-mates is hugely important, especially on a week like this when Ireland are playing France. As Murray says, the last thing you want is to be uncomfortable with the person you're sharing with.

At this stage, Murray and Earls are like a long-time married couple. Murray is the hen-pecked one, as the beeping on his phone during the interview attests.

A quick check and it's confirmed.

"Yeah, a text from Keith telling me to hurry up, that he's ready to leave!"

The happy spirit of camaraderie that exists between Murray and Earls will be extended on to the pitch today. Ireland will be tested to the limit by resourceful opponents as they search for that elusive consistency.

It's been a frustrating hunt that has been made all the more infuriating for the players because they are convinced they are close to putting all the pieces back together.

Murray grimaces more than smiles at the suggestion that perhaps that 'consistency of performance' is so elusive because, frankly, it's a myth. That the first 40 minutes against Wales was the anomaly in Ireland's season.

"No, I wouldn't go along with that at all," he said.

"It has been a tough few weeks. And it's not all rosy in the garden because we have lost two games that we could and should have won.

"It is positive behind the scenes, though, because we know we're nearly there, that we're not too far away and that what's been going wrong is fixable.

"The Scotland result is one that really stands out because no way should that have happened. I'd go so far as to say something like that will never happen again. The stats – 71pc possession – were phenomenal but we made mistakes.

"You don't blame individuals. It's a collective thing. Had we capitalised on just one line-break, had we not missed touch, not missed a line-out, not dropped the ball, we could have opened the game up. Instead we're struggling, making mistakes and allowing them into the game.

"Someone who was at the game said to me that at half-time they looked at the pitch and Scotland's half was all cut up while ours was perfect."

Although just 23 years of age, it seems Murray has been around forever, but today he plays in what will be just his seventh Six Nations match. He was, it must be remembered, a surprise inclusion in the Ireland World Cup squad, although he finished the tournament as first choice.

And he made his Six Nations debut only last season, playing in the opening three games before injury scuppered the rest of the campaign.

His inclusion for the World Cup took many by surprise.

He had just broken through to the Munster first team. But Tomas O'Leary's sharp fall in form opened the door and Murray stepped through.

"It annoys me a little when people say it happened overnight for me. It's not like I had been sitting on my a**e at home doing nothing," he said.

"I had finished the season strongly with Munster and was playing well. I didn't think I had made it when I wasn't included for that last warm-up game but when the call came it was very welcome."

Since then Murray has established himself as Ireland's first choice. Today he comes up against Morgan Parra, aware that a strong showing against the Clermont No 9 will help his Lions prospects.

"Ah you don't think about that. Of course it's there in the mind," he conceded.

"And every player is conscious of it being a Lions year but you have to just not think about it truthfully.

"I've enough going on this weekend against a very tricky opponent. He's a handful. And he's strong. He likes to keep you guessing and when he does break himself he's not easy to turn at all."

Irish Independent

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