Saturday 15 December 2018

Murray eager to capitalise on shock call

David Kelly

David Kelly

A little less than a year ago, Conor Murray was interviewed for the Munster Supporters Group and was asked where he saw himself in a year's time.

"Hopefully I will be looking forward to a new season with Munster on a senior contract," reported the 21-year-old Patrickswell native.

Well, 12 months on, Murray was last night still attempting to grapple with the immensity of what is arguably the most unexpected breakthrough ever witnessed since Irish rugby first tentatively embraced professionalism 16 years ago.

Not since Gordon D'Arcy declined Warren Gatland's invitation to skip his Leaving Cert and tour South Africa has a player shot to prominence so quickly; however, D'Arcy had been mapped as a prodigious schoolboy talent and, like Brian O'Driscoll and so many others of this glorious generation, great things were expected of him from a young age.


Not so Murray. His first appearance in Munster red only arrived in the spring of 2010, from the bench against Connacht during a Six Nations window; his first start came just five months ago, against the Dragons in the Celtic League.

An international debut, so wonderfully assured, followed less than a fortnight ago in Bordeaux.

And now? The World Cup beckons, his stunning promotion in a green shirt mirroring his remarkable rise at Munster, elbowing Grand Slam and Heineken Cup winners Tomas O'Leary and Peter Stringer out of the reckoning.

Laid-back to the point of horizontal, Murray tried his damnedest to capture the mood of such dramatic career growth.

"It happened a bit quicker than expected," smiles the 22-year-old graduate of St Munchin's.

And somewhere down Limerick way, Con Roche will be having a little chuckle to himself and raising a glass to toast his proud grandson.

Garryowen starlet Roche, once an Irish triallist but never an international, played on the 1948 team that almost stunned the touring Australians at the Mardyke -- he helped set up the late try that nearly won the game.

Now Roche can fulfil his Irish dreams vicariously. Like the rest of his stunned family and friends.

It is almost as if Murray's World Cup selection has affected others more deeply than himself, naturally enough given that he has barely had time to pinch himself over these last six months.

"I live with a couple of other Munster lads and they were telling me to get excited and I hadn't realised it," he says. "But I'm sure in the next couple of days it'll start coming together and I'll understand how big it is."

Mike Sherry, Declan Cusack, Paddy Butler and Dave Kilcoyne, his Munster Academy housemates, were driven to distraction in their attempts to roust some emotion from their now exalted colleague. Their awe remained matched by Murray's shock.

"I got the call from Declan Kidney on Sunday and Deccie Cusack's room was next door. I was trying to keep it quiet but he could hear through the walls and he came running into me, so it was hard to keep it quiet."

His progress has been anything but; two years ago, he was involved in a relegation scrap with Garryowen, where he formed a crucial relationship with renowned specialist coach Greg Oliver.

Steady underage performances, from provincial level, where he scored the first points in the new Thomond Park for the U-20s, and at international level, where he demonstrated his versatility by continuing to goal-kick, granted him status as prospect as opposed to overnight sensation.

Until this year.

"I remember Tony (McGahan) gave me my first start in that Dragons game and at that time I was just concentrating on having a good game. That was probably as big a game as I'd ever played in at that point in time.

"Once that game was over he kept me in starting for the next game and that helped me grow my confidence and eventually, yeah, I started to say 'I can handle this kind of level' and kicked on from there."

Making the cut at the expense of an Irish legend and another colleague with Grand Slam and Heineken Cup medals jingling about in his pocket emphasises the point.

"It's a bit of a surprise, yeah," he responds when asked about the omission of O'Leary. "But it's such a competitive squad you can't take anything for granted so, yeah, it's a bit strange all right."

A promising midfielder, Murray hurled underage with Patrickswell -- he also presented a hefty proposition at corner-forward for the footballers -- but after an U-21 championship hurling defeat four years ago, he decided to concentrate entirely on rugby.

His emergence is a fine tribute to the Munster Academy system, demonstrating that truly anything is possible.

"Yeah, absolutely. Some people, when you get stuck in the academy for three or four years they kind of give up hope, that they might not make it but in the third year everything started coming together for me and kicked off, so it's a really good programme and really worth doing.

"But you need luck in everything. Tomas was injured during the year and that was where I got my first chance, so I just managed to stay in. You need breaks like that."

Developing a more assertive personality on the field will be one of Murray's priorities. Even Brian O'Driscoll referenced the importance of helping him emerge from his shell.

"Probably the main thing I've worked on in the last few years is communications," Murray admits. "I'd be quite quiet off the pitch.

"In the last few years, since I've been at Munster especially, people have commented on how good it has become, especially Greg (Oliver), he's picked that out in my game and said it's improved immensely."

Assertive enough to become No 1?

"If the chance comes my way hopefully I'll be able to take it," Murray says suavely.

Given his career profile to date, it would barely register as a shock.

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