Belfast Telegraph

Murray is ready to hit heights with Munster after Ireland heroics

By David Kelly

Conor Murray should have stopped growing by now. Instead, he is getting taller. We chart these things, you see. According to the internet, in 2012, he was a plain old six-footer; a couple of years later, he had ascended to 6' 1".

On a dank morning in Limerick, he strides purposefully into the room and we know he is, and has been for a while now, 6' 2" (1.88m for the Europhiles amongst you).

Murray, it seems, continues to grow; he should have stopped at 21 but his rise remains incessant. And it is not only measured in height.

As he lays down a prepared meal of what seems like a variety of twigs and immobile snails - vegetarian pasta someone informs us - the 27-year-old exudes an aura of contentment with his place in the grand scheme of things.

His quiet confidence seems wonderfully unshakeable; November demonstrated that perhaps he, and not Jonathan Sexton, is Ireland's most indispensable player.

This Saturday the Munster man will tackle Leicester star Ben Youngs at Thomond Park in the European Cup, in what may be the first of a trio of direct auditions for the famous number nine red jersey in New Zealand next summer.

"I feel really good," he beams.

"Just since the South Africa tour, I've taken on more of a leadership role.

"It's not necessarily talking more. I just feel a bit more comfortable in the group, not just in Ireland but in here too.

"I feel confident about my own game and that allows you to play a lot better. If you have got a few hang-ups in your head about your form, and if things aren't going your way selection-wise, it is difficult to get to that place.

"But it has just been a good month for me and I feel really, really good about my game. My body feels really good, really fit, that's half the battle. If you can be injury-free and playing week in, week out, you build that form.

"I am in a good place right now. It's going to be a good year but I am happy with the start I have made. But there are going to be massive challenges ahead."

There wasn't any particular Damascene moment of conversion for Murray in graduating from lieutenant to general; it has simply coincided with his stealthy rise to prominence in terms of status to where he is now arguably just as important to Ireland as the man outside him.

"I wouldn't chase that," he observes. "It's unnatural for me to chase that. It forms over time with experience and being around the lads and being in the group and getting used to the coaches, and being comfortable expressing ideas or disagreeing with things which is probably harder to do.

"There was never one point. I think just the games that happened, the big games and big crowds, and what was at stake, that probably brings more out of you.

"When the big games are on I just feel there is a bit more of a buzz about me and there is something extra in the week.

"If it's a big week and training isn't going that well I would be cranky and you would go home in a bad mood and come back in the next day and try and fix it.

"When we go out on the pitch this week, there will be an edge.

"Hopefully the intensity and the buzz is there. From experience, during European weeks it's actually not that hard to find."

It might seem as if nothing can top the intensity of November with Ireland but, with two derbies and three European matches to come in the next five weeks, if anything, the pressure is being ratcheted up even more.

Belfast Telegraph

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