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Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Murray Embracing World Cup Challenge

Murray Embracing World Cup Challenge

Rising through the ranks with Garryowen, Munster and Ireland, Conor Murray has let little faze him to date. But the enormity of his first Rugby World Cup has only really hit him since Declan Kidney’s men set up camp in New Zealand.

Hailing from Patrickswell in County Limerick, Conor Murray’s ascent into Ireland’s World Cup squad has been the stuff of dreams.

Ask the man himself and he agrees that it has been a whirlwind. “The enormity of it is only hitting me since we arrived here,” he admitted, speaking at the squad’s current base in Queenstown.

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“Before when I found out (about being in the squad), I had no emotion. It didn’t really hit me at all.

“I was just at home with the (Munster) lads I live with and they were physically shaking me, trying to get me excited. It’s definitely starting to hit me now and I’m looking forward to it.”

Hard to believe it, but it is just six short months since Murray’s first competitive start for Munster in their league win over the Newport Gwent Dragons.

Seven more appearances for the province followed, including May’s memorable grand final win over Leinster. His consistent level of performance was more than enough to secure a senior contract for the final year Munster Academy player.

Declan Kidney and the Irish management were keeping a close eye on Murray, who first came to national prominence as a member of Allen Clarke’s Ireland Under-20 team in 2009.

His talents as a physical, snappy-passing scrum half with strong kicking skills were first honed in the Garryowen Academy, where former Scotland scrum half Greig Oliver helped develop his game.

Murray maintained his progress with run-outs for the Limerick club in the All-Ireland League and Munster ‘A’ in the British & Irish Cup.

Last season saw him make the breakthrough at provincial level and he certainly made the most of his call-up to the Ireland training squad this summer.

The 22-year-old had an assured senior debut for Ireland as a second half replacement against France in Bordeaux. A second cap followed as he got on for the final 18 minutes of Ireland’s recent defeat to England.

Having edged out his Munster colleague Tomas O’Leary for a place in the World Cup squad, the aim now is to challenge for a place in the matchday squad for the Pool C opener against the USA.

You get a sense of his quiet confidence and belief in his ability when he says: “I don’t want to be a passenger. I’m not just here on holiday or whatever, I really want to try and get on the pitch and contribute to a winning Ireland team.

“You hear about people talking about pecking orders but I’m just going to focus on my game and do as well as I can and if I get a bit of game-time, great.”

Having a large number of Munster players in camp has helped Murray settle into the Irish environment. He roomed with Paul O’Connell for the Bordeaux trip, after which fellow Limerick man and World Cup squad member, Eoin Reddan, gave him his number 9 jersey as a souvenir.

Indeed, the Murray and Reddan families live less than a mile away from each other. Conor’s parents, Gerry and Barbara, passed on their love of sport to their son. Gerry worked as a camera man on the Tour de France, while Barbara played squash for Ireland internationally.

The rugby genes lie further back with Conor’s grandfather, Con Roche, who won a Munster Senior Cup medal with Garryowen in 1947 and played for Munster against Australia the following year.

Gaelic football and hurling were his early sporting passions and it was not until he attended St. Munchin’s College that the oval ball took precedence.

“Rugby began to take over when I went to secondary school. I had to give up hurling then when I started getting on Munster underage sides. Patrickswell (GAA club) weren’t too happy with me but they’re really supportive now,” he explained.

“I moved to scrum half in fourth year in school and the only reason I did it is because I had a friend from our summers in Derrynane in Kerry called Chris Nolan, who played nine for Christians and I just wanted to try it out because he was going on about how cool it was.

“He played Irish Schools as well, so I was kind of jealous of him and I tried it out. We used to always play tip rugby on the beach in Kerry, so I tried it down there.

“When I went back to Munchin’s I was playing Bowen Shield (at Under-16 level) and I said it to the coach and he threw me in and I managed to stay there.”

There is a St. Munchin’s link in the current Ireland squad as both Murray and Keith Earls were part of the side that won the Munster Schools Senior Cup back in 2006.

Having watched his school-mate burst onto the scene with Munster and Ireland, Earls said: “He’s a quality player. He was part of the Munchin’s squad the year we won it. He was so good, but he never got a run.

“I’m delighted for him because when I was in the Munster squad I used to always see him out in the gym by himself. He always worked hard.”

That work ethic has got him to where he is at the moment, on the cusp of making his World Cup debut. It is a stage Murray seems well-suited to despite his young age, and he is relishing the chance to play alongside two top class out-halves in Ronan O’Gara and Jonathan Sexton.

“You can’t be intimidated by anyone on your team. Playing with Ronan at Munster has really stood to me, he’s great to play with,” he added.

“He barks at me, I bark at him but it works really well. It was a bit daunting at the start, my first game against Cardiff with ROG at 10, but it was just great to get a game under my belt playing with him.

“I enjoy playing with him and it’s the same with Johnny (Sexton). I had 20 minutes with him in the last game against England. It was good to get that game-time.

“Even talking with Deccie before, rugby isn’t that different when you go up the levels, obviously it gets a bit quicker and you make quicker decisions.

“If your basics are good, and obviously you have to have some bit of skill to be able to play at another level, but I find it okay at the moment. I’m sure I have to be tested yet but so far, so good.”

Follow the Ireland team in New Zealand on www.twitter.com/irfurugby.