Sunday 24 February 2019

'More players may start moving provinces' - Jordi Murphy expects transfers between Irish clubs to become more common

 

Ulster’s Jordi Murphy, Johnny Sexton of Leinster and Munster’s Peter O’Mahony at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Ulster’s Jordi Murphy, Johnny Sexton of Leinster and Munster’s Peter O’Mahony at the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

CIan Tracey

For a fleeting moment, Jordi Murphy toyed with the idea of taking up one of the offers from a club abroad.

The 27-year-old knew that his next move could define his career, and when it came down to it, the lure of France or England didn't appeal.

Giving up his Ireland career at a stage when he had just helped his country win a Grand Slam made him think twice and ultimately when he properly pondered the move north, he realised that it was a no-brainer.

Upping sticks and leaving a team who had just won the double can't have been easy, yet Murphy was ambitious enough to want more regular game-time away from Leinster.

Moving to Ulster will provide Murphy with the minutes that he so desperately craves, and crucially the majority of which will come in his preferred openside position.

It took time for Murphy to fully recover from the horrific knee injury that he suffered during the win over the All Blacks two years ago, and in the time he spent on the sidelines, he watched his rivals, both for club and country, close the gap.

"I came to a crossroads last year when I knew something had to change," Murphy says, explaining how the move to Ulster came about.

"Every international player has the ambition to keep playing international rugby so when I was left out of the November squad by Joe last year, I just thought that I probably wasn't playing enough with Leinster.

"I was stuck in a rut and needed a new challenge. I went to my agent and we started looking at places overseas but ultimately I wanted to stay in Ireland, and be under the IRFU umbrella, especially in a World Cup year. Ulster, I had a good conversation with them and it really felt like the right fit.

"I just weighed everything up and I realised that my international ambitions were going to come first.

"I wanted to stay in Ireland. It (moving abroad) was (realistic) for maybe a week or more but I decided to park it and just look solely within Ireland."

Murphy's switch to Ulster will have pleased the powers that be on Lansdowne Road no end, particularly ahead of next year's World Cup.

With a plethora of former Leinster players now plying their trade in Belfast, as well as the summer moves of Joey Carbery to Munster and Robin Copeland to Connacht, we are slowly beginning to see more and more Irish players moving provinces.

Two years ago, after Ian Madigan had the chance to go to Munster, he suggested that the provincial rivalries could be diluted if more players are willing to switch allegiances.

Madigan's fellow former Blackrock student Murphy doesn't quite see it that way however.

"I've been asked about it, 'Do I think I started a trend?'" Murphy says.

"It may start happening more because there's so much quality coming through at such a young age and ultimately people are going to have to move on if they want to keep playing competitive rugby especially if you want to play for Ireland, knowing that you have to stay within the country.

"Maybe it's not the traditional thing to do, for Leinster players to go to Ulster, but I don't see why it can't happen more.

"I don't think the Leinster game I'm going to play this Christmas is going to be any less spicy. We're playing Munster this weekend and people were saying a few years ago that the games weren't what they were, but I don't think it's going to happen.

"The level of competition, the level of the league, the European Cup have gone up another level, but I've never gone into a interpro game thinking it's not a big deal if we don't win. You want to be winning those games every time you play them."

That kind of attitude is exactly why Dan McFarland wanted Murphy to be part of his pack. The flanker arrives from a Leinster dressing room that never settles for mediocrity and he will be a key figure if Ulster are to dine at the top table again soon.

"We're always looking for intellectual property," McFarland said of Murphy at yesterday's Heineken Champions Cup launch.

"As an organisation, we always want to learn and we have our eyes open to what's going on outside. Out of all the clubs in Europe, Leinster are probably the ones you want to learn from. It's great to have him here."

Murphy's first weeks in Belfast were spent under the wing of John Cooney, who took his fellow ex-Leinster Academy team-mate into his house.

"I knew Marty (Moore) had signed with Ulster a few weeks before I did and I'd talked to John a bit who was really enjoying his time up there," Murphy explains.

"The likes of Rory Best and Iain Henderson I know quite well so I was able to ask them about general life and how the squad was going and stuff. It definitely helps to have the familiar faces there."

An ankle injury has hampered his start to life with his new club but Murphy is due back very soon. It's certainly a big culture change for the flanker but it is one that he is determined to embrace. "Basically, playing for Ireland was my main ambition," he adds. "I'm glad I'm at Ulster for the foreseeable future and I'm going to do as well as I can. Hopefully that leads to playing more for Ireland.

"Ulster Rugby is incredibly ambitious. They want to do as well as they can in both competitions.

"If you're aiming for third or fourth, what's the point in playing? I didn't leave somewhere where you strive to be the best to strive for second or third.

"Day in, day-out, everyone is going into that club to try and be the best player they can and ultimately to bring Ulster back up. They've done well in the last couple of years, but we are aiming for even greater heights."

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