Tuesday 23 April 2019

Confident Murray never lost belief in his ability

'I have felt good. I wasn't panicking and changing the way I've been training'

Conor Murray has full confidence in his own ability and that of his team-mates. Photo: Sportsfile
Conor Murray has full confidence in his own ability and that of his team-mates. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Conor Murray sits before us, the same as he ever was. Which shouldn't surprise anyone, because Conor Murray still remains the same as he ever was.

A nation has fretted for his well-being - and that of his team - but their anxieties have not been mirrored by those within.

For to do so would have been utterly counter-productive.

True, he has made mistakes. He has dipped below the extraordinary levels long established. So have those around him.

And so, for that matter, has everyone who has pointed this out from the bleachers and the bar-stools.

Even Joe Schmidt was moved to make a strident defence - and that of equally fitful partner Jonathan Sexton - mid-camapign, in acknowledging the pair's enduring class, with an assurance that it would sooner, rather than later, re-emerge.

Sunday marked the revelation, even if Murray disputes the media and fans' concerns in the first place; still, he does concede an acknowledgement that the prime confidence that always lay within had re-surfaced.

Not that it had ever really left him.

"I have felt good, I have felt really good," he insists. "We've just been a little bit off for this tournament and Sunday was a really good step forward.

"During that time, you've to stay realistic and focus on what hasn't been working. They've been small things, things you can easily fix.

"I wasn't panicking and changing the way I've been training or the way I view the game, or putting more pressure on, or trying harder within the group.

"My chats to the coaches were small things."

Trouble is, at his level, with such a searing spotlight, the small things are magnified; the Tito Tebaldi turnover in Italy, for example; another day, a scrum; that day, a try.

Sexton notes his Italian restart; half a yard from being perfect but, instead, punted out of play.

"A small thing, obviously a big effect," Murray agrees. "But that doesn't affect my game. I'm really realistic. I'm really honest with myself.

"There's been a few things I would have been upset with over the tournament. You can talk about form and what is form. It's small things.

"Confidence-wise, obviously, you are trying to get to the level that you're used to."

The whole squad have endured the process, as multiple errors snowballed into what seemed like apparent free-fall but, they had to remind themselves, were merely slippages from the norm.

"There was just some uncharacteristic errors from some individuals, some breakdowns in just a couple of things," notes Sexton.

"That just adds up and if everyone makes a couple of mistakes then suddenly you have 30 errors and you are in a bit of trouble."

Murray, like his team, didn't allow a dip to career wildly out of control, as can happen other players, and teams.

To identify the particular issues and crinkles, iron them out, all the while reminding yourself that the elements that brought you here will always be with you, is an encouraging voyage of re-discovery, particularly if the process is undertaken within the intensity of a championship campaign.

It is an experience which may benefit them should similar creases occur in Japan.

"Over the years you have probably seen a couple of good teams who you might have expected to have been in with a title chance and then they started off struggling and they just keep struggling," he avers.

"That is definitely a confidence booster for us that we have worked our way through this. Again I go back to being realistic, we knew we were only little bits away. The knowledge of the previous performances, the trust we were close, we knew a performance could come together.

"And on Sunday we looked a lot more like the team that everyone is kind of used to. We were as frustrated as anyone else.

"When you are used to hitting highs, performing at a certain level, it is really frustrating coming in after each game.

"It was almost a case of having to really try not to feel sorry for yourself because you do not really get the answers that way. It was a case of dust yourself off. We know we have come up short. And we know this week, we have to get better."

Calm

Even the coaching staff cut some slack, Murray revealing that not every video nasty was publicly paraded; while all else panicked, internal calm helped re-calibrate the group.

"It's been there all the time," Murray stresses, "I think it can be dangerous when things don't go alright in a particular game, people start to question you, start to wonder what's going on.

"But all of us have performed together for quite a period of time, knowing it's there. It's just an eagerness to straighten out things that weren't going our way.

"We were aware of things that weren't fully functioning. It was just a matter of getting down to work with each other, going hard after fixing those problems.

"There is confidence in the group, the personal confidence, that was always there. There was anxiety to get it right, because we know the level that we can play at.

"In a way it's a compliment that people are questioning it. I know we're winning games, but our performances weren't great. It's what people are expecting."

And now they have re-emerged; recharged and re-energised.

"In a weird way, you kind of took a bit of confidence from it," he says of the journey back to where they came from.

Not that they will stop now, mind.

"We will learn a lot from ourselves and the team around us having gone through this. We'll be better for this.

"It will show on Saturday. Are we over the hump? I would like to think we're in a much better place than we have been."

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