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'The older you get, you really appreciate how hard it is to get in here': Murray working to stay at the top

The Munster, Ireland and Lions scrum-half was named RWI player of the year last night.

CONOR MURRAY MADE his name by powering up the slipstream and over-taking front-runners.

Decorated front-runners too, men of great international pedigree and esteem. Kind of like Murray now.

Within a year of making his Munster debut he was tasked with starting the Celtic League final against Leinster.

An international debut before the 2011 World Cup helped him sneak onto the plane as a bolter, but he made himself first-choice before returning from New Zealand.

On a Lions tour two years later he looked destined to be third-choice for Warren Gatland behind Mike Phillips and Ben Youngs. Once again, he came back across the equator as a clear-cut first-choice.

This isn’t the natural path of a progressing young talent. Sometimes a player is marked for greatness from the outset and hits the ground running at the top level, or not. More often there are a host of ups, downs and false dawns.

This summer’s tour to New Zealand with the Lions saw Murray travel as one of the few obvious starters, and he ensured there would be no need for a re-think or chopping and changing this time around.

Conor Murray Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Murray is at the absolute top of his game at present and to watch him glide around a field, making 29 others appear as if they are wading in mud by comparison, is a pleasure.

Consistency is too often used with a hint of the pejorative, but when you’re at the peak, balance can not be underestimated.

“The older you get you really appreciate it and you understand how hard it is to get in here and stay here so you just want to keep doing it as long and as best you can,” says the 28-year-old who was named the Rugby Writers of Ireland player of the year last night, a gong to add to his Rugby Players of Ireland award.

“That is the most simple way of explaining my motivation. I’ve targets in my head and things I want to get done this year that I’ll keep to myself. I like doing that, setting goals for myself but it’s just about being the best you can be.

You’re 28, I know I’m not pushing on retirement but you want to keep going for as long as you can at a high level. I’m competitive, I want to stay here and get better and see how good I can get. That’s my motivation.”

One of the highlights of the year which landed Murray this personal accolade was his part in the Lions’ drawn series against the All Blacks. A much-hyped tour culminating in a shared trophy and 1 1/2 wins apiece is still a difficult outcome to appraise, but for Murray maintaining an unbeaten record with the quad-nation tourists is one of the few tangibles to take away.

“The draw was, I don’t know, I still can’t describe it. It was weird. I’ve been on two Lions tours now and not lost a series, which is something you can be proud of but going down there and drawing, no one likes drawing, that’s the thing, but you talk to people about it and it’s something we should be really proud of as an achievement.

Conor Murray celebrates winning Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I don’t think you can call a draw an achievement but it was a good thing to do. We left with our heads held high, that’s probably the best way to put it.”

Head high, Murray goes back into the more familiar surrounds of Ireland camp this week ahead of a three Test November schedule that will pit him against South Africa and Argentina either side of an encounter with Fiji.

Being called away with the Lions mean it’s been quite a long wait to play in green again. The clash with the Springboks on 11 November will bridge an eight-month and one day gap since he was injured during the first half of Ireland’s loss to Wales in Cardiff.

Conor Murray Murray attempted to play through the injury, though it severely hampered his passing. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Yeah, it seems like a long time ago — a lot of new faces, which is exciting to see. We went out for a meal last (Sunday) night, just getting to know lads like Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Porter, all these new faces that I wouldn’t have seen on the summer tour.

“It’s just got a new feeling to it, albeit with a core group of experienced players, which is exciting because watching those younger guys play at the moment, they’re shining and so there’s a lot of hope for us.

“There’s a lot of work to be done because this big group hasn’t been together, with the Lions and the summer tour to Japan we haven’t been together in so long, so it’s all hands to the wheel and we’ve got to work hard over this week and in the lead-up to South Africa in two weeks and have a good crack off it.”

“We know this week is really important. We know we can bed a lot of things in that we want to get in our game and our minds and then when we come into camp next week we’re not double-checking or double-guessing a play and things are happening a lot quicker.

This is the week we’ve got to work hard because we’re coming in from different teams, the inter-pros were just on as well so it’s like we were basically killing each other last weekend and now we’ve got to work together and try and get this thing going again.

“We have the environment and we have the coaches and the players that are well capable of doing that so it’s an exciting camp to be in.

“It’s a really good place to come and stay.”

It’s tough at the top and Murray is working harder than ever to keep himself there.

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