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Others may soon pack their bags like Murphy

 

By Tony Ward

On Tuesday last, word leaked of a Jordi Murphy move to Ulster being imminent. In the 24 hours that followed, it was indeed confirmed.

Naturally, being a current international at a prime stage in his still developing career, the move has attracted much comment. The bulk of it positive, I might add, and why should it be any other way?

The Barcelona-born, Blackrock College-educated back row forward has made the decision to up sticks and move two hours up the road for the sake of maximising his rugby playing career.

Yes, he could have stayed put and competed with about eight others for a place in the Leinster back row. In human terms he could have continued to put bread on the table and, no matter what the station in life, I think that a good place to be.

Point being that it wasn't in desperation he made this decision but was motivated by personal ambition to be as good a rugby player as he can possibly be. As a box ticked to common sense, it was and is a no-brainer. No-one but no-one can accuse this very talented player of turning his back on the province in which he was brought up.

Not for a minute would we attempt to draw a parallel with the parish ethic so central to Gaelic Games but, in terms of representing the province he loves, it is well up that road.

Murphy is in essence a proud Dub and Leinsterman, but he is also - by choice and by good fortune - a professional sportsman who must maximise his limited time at the top of what can be a very fickle trade.

Making the decision to leave his province of choice wasn't easy but, again, I would bend to using the term when confronted by logic as it being a no-brainer. He is not by any means the first - think Oli Jager, Andrew Conway, Conor Oliver, Gavin Thornbury.

Whether we like it or not, the future of the sport as a business is driven from the top down. Of course, what happens on the ground from grassroots up is the central plank, but the ultimate aim is to have our shop window side (Team Ireland) being as consistently successful as it can be at the highest level.

To that end it is the responsibility of the IRFU, and specifically David Nucifora in his role as Performance Director, to ensure that the best of emerging talent from whatever corner of the island be given the best chance to prosper.

Put simply, the nature of Murphy's re-deployment should become more and more the norm and not the exception it still so clearly is.

And, as an aside, isn't it wonderful that despite entrenched political positions on the border issue from generations past, rugby, the all-island game, continues to shine a light at the end of any and every tunnel of darkness. Let's be clear, what we need is freedom of movement every way between all four provinces for the betterment of Irish rugby and for our international team going forward.

In terms of the M1 road north, right now we have Alan O'Connor, Greg Jones, Nick Timoney, John Cooney as well as Marty Moore (via Wasps) and Murphy set to wear the red hand. How good is that for individual career development, for provincial development, for the betterment of the national elite and, yes, for cross-border development too. Long may it continue so.

But back to specifics, and no doubt the stirring of a hornets' nest for Leinster fans. Joey Carbery is for me the most exciting talent to emerge on the rugby scene since Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls. Jordan Larmour has displayed the same potential through his under-age time at St Andrew's and is a banker for full international selection sooner rather that later.

The problem is where to play Carbery at Leinster because right now the Belfield pool of talent is overflowing with as many again - currently in the under-age system - fighting to impress and make that Academy cut.

Press me to tell you Carbery's best position as of now and I struggle. My gut instinct tells me out-half but, of course, I can see the logic behind what Girvan Dempsey and Stuart Lancaster have been doing at Leinster in using this gifted young player in the last line.

But with Larmour coming through, Rob Kearney well on the way back and James Lowe, as well as Isa Nacewa, all are top-quality full backs.

At out-half, Johnny Sexton is irreplaceable, while Ross Byrne has come through well.

In that scenario, what chance is there of Carbery consistently wearing either 10 or 15?

Yes, of course Leo Cullen, along with Dempsey and Lancaster, will attempt to manage him but, were I Carbery, I would be having a radical rethink, much like Murphy, as to where I go from here.

The Murphy move is a dilemma set to confront many more now and in the future. Yes, Nucifora and the IRFU (rest assured with Joe Schmidt included) need to be even more proactive still in terms of interprovincial fluidity, but ultimately it is for the individual to determine if and when the time is right.

To move is a bold and brave call. To move abroad is bolder and braver still. And let me add that while I would question the need to sign Lowe, I do believe the signing of marquee players of that calibre from overseas can have much to offer in bringing a new and added dimension - Nacewa, Rocky Elsom, Brad Thorn and Felipe Contepomi just some of those who have brought that all embracing extra factor to Leinster.

All that said, the decision is of course for the player to make.

Back in the day a player in Limerick, for example, took his 'life in his hands' when moving from one treaty city club to another. Interprovincial rivalry has supplanted that, but the game now is a different animal.

The challenge of keeping top players home will always be there and, in that key respect, it is difficult to counter the Nucifora/Schmidt stance on international eligibility when opting to play abroad.

Murphy's move is a testament to common sense, and I doubt there is a Leinster supporter anywhere who wishes him anything but the best.

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