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'I love it': Jordi Murphy on life at Ulster and bouncing back from initial World Cup disappointment

 

Despair to joy: Jordi Murphy enjoying life with Ulster
Despair to joy: Jordi Murphy enjoying life with Ulster
Jordi Murphy with team-mate Iain Henderson at the World Cup in Japan

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Not content with the emotional roller coaster of missing out on World Cup selection before being called up during the tournament and suffering an injury midway through his only appearance, Jordi Murphy decided to get down on one knee and propose to his girlfriend Laura Finnegan.

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Happily, she said yes. "It had been on the cards for a while," he says with a smile. And, so, when the 28-year-old reflects on the autumn of 2019 he has a happy ending at the end of a tough couple of months.

Sitting in a quiet corner of the media room overlooking the Kingspan Stadium pitch, it is obvious that the Dubliner is enjoying life in Belfast where he has established himself as a key figure in a steadily improving Ulster team since making the move at the start of last season.

Under Dan McFarland, the northern province surpassed external expectations in year one by reaching the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final and the Guinness PRO14 last four, and this year they have started well and are in control of Pool Three ahead of today's visit of Harlequins.

One of the key drivers behind Murphy's decision to make the move was to make it to Japan so, in that sense, the transfer didn't work out.

But, while he is still disappointed at not making the initial cut, he has gained a lot more than just caps since swapping home comforts for Belfast.

"I love it, to be honest, it's been great for me," he says of his move.

"I suppose, I loved my time with Leinster. It's where I went to school and played underage, so I was 10 or so years in the system, but when I moved it was the right time.

"It was unbelievable to leave on such a high (winning the double), but I have absolutely no regrets.

"It's a bit daunting to move out of your comfort zone, but it was great for me because, without really knowing it, I was in a bubble where I'd do the same thing every day, hang out with the same people, go for coffee or lunch in the same places, and to just kind of move away somewhere else... it's hardly across the world, I know it's only two hours up the road, but it really is a different country.

"People here are brilliant, I love the place I live, which is only five minutes from here, and a lot of the boys live around there.

"People make a big effort with each other, which really helped me at the start.

"You could come somewhere, you'd sometimes see it with the boys at Leinster. They'd be welcomed, but because guys are from the area, they'd go home after games and hang out with school friends. Here, there'd always be a big emphasis and drive to meet up on down days.

"I think that's why our squad is gelling so well and has been so good, people actually enjoy spending time with each other all week."

Wins over Bath and Clermont have opened the door for Ulster to get back to the last eight of the Champions Cup and that's helped move the players past their World Cup disappointment.

For Murphy, it was something of a double-whammy.

He was firmly in the mix for the squad, but missed out to Rhys Ruddock before being called up as a replacement for the injured Jack Conan and pitched straight in against Russia.

Things were going well until he popped a rib midway through the first-half. Although he was available for the win over Samoa and the quarter-final defeat to New Zealand, he played no further part.

It was a lot to deal with.

"Yeah, it was. Look, yeah, I haven't hidden the fact it was incredibly disappointing," he admits.

"I always knew it was going to be tough, I'd had a good pre-season and put my best foot forward. I hadn't missed a session, I'd made sure I stayed fit and put myself in the best position but, unfortunately, the decision made by Joe and the coaches was that I was going to fall short.

"I knew there was potential to be called out at some stage, so I tried to stay in the best physical shape I could but mentally it's quite tough to take.

"It took a few weeks to get over it, but in here Dan and a couple of coaches were great.

"I got a couple of days off after hearing the news, then I was brought back in. It was just 'right, you're back with us, let's enjoy it'.

"I love the buzz in here, none of the boys tried to make it awkward, it's just get to work and let's enjoy it."

Then the phone call came after Jack's unfortunate injury. It was great to get out there.

"It was tough at the time, definitely, but ultimately, personally I was delighted to get out there.

"Coming up here, one of the goals was to get back into contention to play for Ireland - to put myself in a position where I might be able to go to a World Cup. It was very disappointing the night I got the phone call, but it just shows you how short time in rugby can be because three weeks later I'm on a flight."

The initial chat with Schmidt was brief.

"It's a very strange day when you know it's the day for phone calls," he recalls.

"I didn't get my phone call until half eight, maybe nine o'clock at night. He's got to disappoint a number of people.

"It was a five-minute phone call, I didn't do much talking. It was Joe doing a lot of the talking. Then, at the end, I just said 'I'm incredibly disappointed but I have to respect your decision because I can't do anything about it'.

"That was it, I can't really remember too much about it."

That wasn't that. Murphy, Kieran Marmion and Will Addison were asked to come back to Carton House to prepare with the World Cup squad for their final warm-up match against Wales.

"Then, he asked me to come in the next day with Marms and Will, which was very tough," Murphy says.

"You go into the room and there's 31 guys there, it's a milestone in anyone's career to go to the World Cup and represent Ireland.

"It was just one of those things, without trying to I knew I was sapping the energy out of the room, not really talking to anyone.

"You just try and stay away as much as you can. I did the training and, the first opportunity I got I was in the car.

"You just take it all in. It took two or three days.

"I don't envy any coach in trying to do it, it's the nature of it and there's only 31 places. It's just incredibly disappointing that I was maybe 32 or 33."

Still, the call eventually came and he got to play a brief part at his second World Cup.

"It was incredibly disappointing, but being selected and being involved was great," he says now.

Murphy is back at the day job now, with a wedding to prepare for and new goals to reach. Life moves fast and his full focus is on turning his adopted province into a European force like the one he left.

"If there's anything to compare between here and Leinster, the standards are so high at Leinster the whole time. We want to get there," he says.

"We don't want to be a carbon copy, we want to do our own thing.

"But, we can definitely take some things from them because, let's be honest, they've been up there as one of the top teams in Europe and that's the kind of team we want to be."

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