'15-second debut' brings back happy memories for Murray
Short and sweet though it was, scrum-half will never forget his first cap for Munster
It didn't even last a minute, but Conor Murray is not likely to forget his last trip to the Sportsground. Four years ago today, a fresh-faced 20-year-old Murray bounded across the dog track of the College Road venue. His time had come to enter the illustrious list of Munster scrum-halves.
A 48th-minute head injury to Peter Stringer meant the Garryowen man's first chance – debut time. But by the time minute 49 ticked by, Murray was back on the sidelines putting on his tracksuit.
The home of Connacht rugby got a tiny glimpse at a future Munster, Ireland and Lions star, but that was it. And he hasn't been back since either.
That is sure to change tomorrow as Murray will be keen to get a little game-time under his belt ahead of a Heineken Cup semi-final with Toulon, but no matter what happens out in the Stade Velodrome in Marseilles, his speed-date with Galway will stick in the memory.
"My 15-second debut, yeah I can remember it very clearly. It was a very special day for me," said Murray. "And funnily enough, I don't think I've played in the Sportsground since either. The year after my debut I was on the bench there again but I didn't come on.
"I remember coming on for Peter Stringer. Strings took a blow to the head and had to go into the blood bin. It was pretty exciting running on for Munster for the first time.
"All I remember is that there was a line-out for Connacht, they box-kicked it and our winger knocked on. But by the time the scrum was formed I was off again without having touched the ball.
"I had trouble with the lads at the time saying it did count as a cap, but it has gone down as my first so I'm taking it – even if I didn't get a touch. I had already been named on the bench over in Cardiff the season before but I didn't get a run out, but I'll never forget that 15 seconds. The nerves were huge that day but it'll stick in the mind for a while."
Back then it seemed like a tougher climb than K2 for Murray to surpass all the Munster scrum-halves. Stringer, Tomás O'Leary, Toby Morland and Duncan Williams were ahead of him in the pecking order.
And his next big chance didn't arrive until Tony McGahan threw him to the hounds in Brive a year later. But on a scorching hot day, Murray thrived and helped Munster into the Amlin Cup semi-final.
"I think it must have been one of the hottest days ever, it was well about 30 degrees out there. It was a very high-scoring game too, so we ended up putting in a very heavy workload. It was an enjoyable day nonetheless but it was a very tough day on the lungs.
"Going to France is always a tough place to go no matter who you play, but performing and taking the win out there was one of the things that really builds up confidence in yourself. You are able to go and be part of a winning team in France. It was a big deal at the time.
"Your make-up as a player is built on the good experiences, but also on the bad experiences too. I think they are as important as the good ones I think, mentally they build you up. No one wants to play poorly but on the off chance you do, reacting from that and learning from that is crucial," he said.
Last weekend against Glasgow was one of the bad days and Murray says he thinks there might have been 'a small bit of complacency' to blame for that loss.
"The coaches warned us that it was a huge game for us, but maybe it didn't dawn on us how big a game it was in terms of securing a home semi-final.
"Last weekend makes tomorrow's challenge all the bigger for us. Connacht are going to be well up for it. This is going to be a huge game for their season as well so I don't think we can take anything for granted up there.
"No doubt, it will be a tough week and in some ways it is the ideal preparation for us heading out to Toulon the following week. We'll have to be at our best to beat them. Last week was a kick in the ass for us and we need to get back on track at the Sportsground, especially with the Toulon week so close.
"But first and foremost we are still in the middle of a fight for a semi-final place and we also want to put in a good fight to get a home semi-final as well. We have a big challenge ahead of us this weekend," said Murray, who has just four Pro12 appearances to his name this season.
Ignoring the shadow of a Heineken Cup semi-final creeping around the corner is nigh on impossible and talk of Toulon regularly pops up. And if the pressure on Murray wasn't already high, Rob Penney ratcheted it up even more this week saying the scrum-half might be needed as an auxiliary No 10 if anything happens to Ian Keatley. Bring on the challenges, he says.
"I played one or two games there when I was younger, but I think the last time I played 10 was for the Munster U-20s. I'm not completely alien to it.
"In our game plan at the moment, the odd time the 10 will go to 9 and I will go to 10 just to speed the game up a bit. I've been doing that bit in training in the last couple of weeks and it has let me feel a lot more comfortable in there. It's not new, I know the game fairly much inside out at the moment and at 10 I think I have a fairly good idea of what's required. So I think I just needed reps in training to see what happened there.
"But for me – and I'm sure a lot of the lads on the team would agree – I'm really looking forward to facing Toulon. The idea of going down to the south of France again to play in another Heineken Cup semi-final is very appealing.
"I think we are a good side at the moment. I know we have been a little inconsistent this year, just look at Glasgow last week. But throughout the year we have had some really big performances.
"We are a good team, we've got some great players as well. Maybe we don't have as many stars as Toulon have, but within our group we have full confidence in what we are capable of doing."