Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Chris Henry: I couldn't have joined Leinster, so I respect Jordi Murphy for making the move to Ulster

Prize guys: Ulster ace Jordi Murphy and Johnny Sexton of Leinster with the Champions Cup
Prize guys: Ulster ace Jordi Murphy and Johnny Sexton of Leinster with the Champions Cup
Jordi Murphy
Chris Henry

By Chris Henry

There was a moment driving down the M1 that I stopped and thought to myself, 'What am I doing?'

Rugby round up Newsletter

Game previews, plus expert insights and exclusive commentary from the Belfast Telegraph sports team.

It was the spring of 2010 and by the time I was headed towards the Ballsbridge Hotel I'd already had a few conversations with Leinster about signing for Michael Cheika.

Looking back, I think it was something I'd never have gone through with when push came to shove. Ulster hadn't offered me anything at that stage and, while provinces aren't allowed to outbid each other, it was in my mind that the Blues' interest would be a bit of a bargaining tool to hurry the process along.

But just every so often there'd be that fleeting thought, 'Is this actually a good fit for me? Should I be seriously considering this?'

It was before Sean O'Brien was a British and Irish Lion, the European Player of the Year Sean O'Brien, and, while Shane Jennings and Kev McLaughlin were there at the time too, the way it was pitched was that I'd be going down to compete for that seven jersey, to try and win a few Heineken Cup medals too.

It wasn't something I dared tell anyone outside my family - as it turned out, Isaac Boss and Ed O'Donoghue both made the move that summer but I'd no idea that was in the pipeline - and at that time it just felt taboo. I thought about what it would have been like to play against Ulster, to pull on that blue jersey and run out there against the side I'd grown up caring so passionately about, and even in my mind's eye it was a strange sensation.

Maybe after a while in the environment there it could have been different but, in the end, deep down at my core, I just always felt that I'd be an Ulster lad.

Ultimately, I'm glad nothing more came of it and I'm proud to have retired as a one-club man, but that's not to say anything against the guys who have made that switch in reverse since. Now, such moves are almost commonplace and it's a clear boon to Irish Rugby to spread that wealth around.

In a lot of ways I suppose the likes of Alan O'Connor, Eric O'Sullivan and Dave Shanahan were in a different boat than I was back then. They were coming up having not cracked the senior set-up in their home province whereas I'd played a good bit for Ulster and captained the side when Rory Best was absent, but there are certainly a few parallels with Jordi Murphy. I really admire Jordi for making the brave decision this time last year and I don't think he's really got the rewards he deserves in terms of Ireland recognition since, only getting that one start in the Six Nations when asked to play out of position.

It'll be downplayed publicly throughout the week but all those Dublin natives will of course be going out there with a point to prove. They'll want to show the coaches who picked other players ahead of them just how talented they are and there's no shame in that at all. In fact, it's human nature.

That's certainly one aspect of the squad's mindset this week, while another will be that fearlessness of youth. The likes of Rob Baloucoune, Mike Lowry, Angus Kernohan - and it's a real shame Rob Lyttle isn't registered given his form - these guys won't have played in the Aviva before and don't have the same memories of those heartbreaking defeats to Leinster in the big knockout games.

There was a time when it felt like Leinster ended our season every year, beating us in a big knockout game for six years on the spin, and the more it happened, the more it brought its own baggage. I beat Leinster in Dublin just once in my entire career and you can be sure I was well aware of that fact.

For the young guys in this squad, though, there's no such bad memories really, and even the change of venue from the RDS will help.

It's reached a stage where even the walk from the car park to the changing room there has bad associations, but the bus into the Aviva is sure to get everyone pumped up for the game and ready to go.

Nobody expected Ulster to be here and I'd love to see the young guys out there with the shackles off and the freedom to do damage... Saturday can't come soon enough.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph