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Murphy hungry to build his coaching CV on the long road back to Ireland

The former Ireland international is back home this weekend as Leicester face Munster, and he makes no secret of his desire to return permanently.

Murphy is in his fifth season as a coach.
Murphy is in his fifth season as a coach.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

SIXTEEN SEASONS AS a player and now into his fifth as a coach, Geordan Murphy is very much part of the furniture at Welford Road but as he prepares to return home this weekend for Leicester’s clash with Munster, he openly talks about this job being a step on the career ladder.

There is, of course, a deeply ingrained affiliation with the Tigers and, certainly, as a one-club man, Murphy remains staunchly loyal to the 10-time English champions. But, at the same time, the 39-year-old is on a progression path and has worked hard to put himself in the best position to move up the coaching hierarchy if, or when, the opportunity arises.

Part of the Leicester coaching ticket since his retirement in 2013, the former Ireland international, and most decorated player in the Premiership having won eight league titles with the Tigers, has been happy to learn his trade and work his way up the ranks, firstly as Richard Cockerill’s assistant backs coach and then subsequently as assistant coach under Aaron Mauger and now Matt O’Connor.

He has also gone outside of the Welford Road dressing room to expand his coaching skill-set, again underlining his ambition to succeed in the job and, one day, reach the top by returning to the international game.

Murphy has had conversations with John Mitchell, the former US coach, and spent time in the company of Blues boss Tana Umaga and All Blacks deputy Wayne Smith in a bid to further his rugby education and tap into that rich Kiwi coaching culture.

“A lot of the coaches who are coming through now invest a lot of time into developing themselves and developing their thought process on the game,” he tells The42.

“I like the way a few coaches work and the way quite a few different teams work and for me, it’s about stealing or borrowing ideas and blending them into my philosophy.

“It’s about watching and learning from Matt [O'Connor] and certainly I’ve been blessed to work with some great coaches during my playing and coaching career. It’s just about taking stuff from different coaches and learning the way they do things and formulating my thought process on how I would do things if I was in charge.”

That promotion may come sooner than Murphy could have envisaged.

Leicester Tigers v Sale Sharks - Aviva Premiership - Welford Road The 39-year-old is working alongside former Leinster coach Matt O'Connor. Source: PA

That former full-back has reportedly been installed as the frontrunner to succeed Danny Wilson as the Cardiff Blues head coach at the end of this season, a move which would assuredly benefit Murphy’s development process and would be a testament to how much his stock has risen.

“Hopefully, if the opportunity to become a head coach comes, I’m ready to take it with both hands,” he said earlier in the week, before today’s news emerged.

“I feel that’s the path that I’m on. I might not get the opportunity but I would love to go the whole way. I would love to coach internationally. Like any player, you have ambitions to progress in your job.”

The funny thing is that Murphy had no designs on becoming a coach once he hung up his boots after an illustrious playing career which spanned 16 years, 72 Ireland caps, a Lions tour to New Zealand and, as mentioned, eight Premiership crowns and two European Cups.

He explains: “It literally fell into place. At the start of my playing career, I had no interest in coaching, it wasn’t until you get a little bit older and you actually start thinking about the game and how things work and how things could pan out differently.

“At that stage, you just get the bug for it, you coach a couple of sessions and you enjoy it. When I was injured I was asked to coach a couple of the academy sessions, that was back in 2010, and I suppose that was the catalyst for me. I started to think I could actually enjoy this as a career. That was the start of it.

“Now it’s my fifth year as a coach. I was under no illusions that I needed to learn the ropes as a coach and develop my skills. Leicester have been very good to me obviously and have given me the luxury of speaking to other coaches from other sporting environments. I’m quite happy with where I’m at and how it has gone and certainly enjoying it if that’s possible as a coach.”

Murphy jokes, because the enjoyment levels plunged to rock bottom last season.

“It was the toughest year in my 20 years in professional rugby,” he says.

A disastrous Champions Cup campaign, which included a 38-0 defeat t0 Munster at this juncture 12 months ago, spelled the beginning of the end of Cockerill’s hugely successful reign in charge and then his former Tigers team-mate Aaron Mauger was controversially sacked to make way for the return of O’Connor in what was viewed as a desperate bid to restore past glories to the East Midlands club.

Geordan Murphy Murphy will be on water duty at Thomond Park tomorrow evening. Source: PA

Amidst all the uncertainty and backroom upheaval, Murphy remained and even assumed full control in the short period between Mauger’s departure and O’Connor’s first game back at the helm.

He started this term as O’Connor’s deputy and tomorrow evening will be running the line carrying messages and water as Leicester and Munster renew their long-standing European rivalry at Thomond Park in the first of the pivotal back-to-back December games.

For the third successive year, the teams will do battle at this stage of the pool stages and in an uber-competitive group also containing Racing 92 and Castres, the outcome of the two-legged affair will go some way to deciding who progresses to the knockout stages.

Leicester head to Limerick sitting on top of Pool 4 having bounced back from their narrow opening weekend defeat in Paris to emphatically dispatch the challenge of Castres at home in round two.

But performances and results have been inconsistent at best, typified by consecutive defeats to Worcester and Wasps over the last two weeks — and Murphy admits they are in need of a result to kick-start their faltering campaign. No better place to get it, then.

“We had a really poor start [to the season] but then actually put a few decent performances together on the back of that as we started to get a few more bodies fit. We looked pretty dangerous and a few more injuries have probably contributed to a bit of a dip in the Premiership over the last couple of weeks but we definitely need a kick-start to our campaign.

“We’re playing some good rugby together in parts but probably haven’t produced an 80-minute performance together. That’s what we’ll need this weekend because we know how tough it will be, we know how strong Munster are in Europe. It’s important. We need to go and perform well and hopefully get points there.”

While it was confirmed yesterday that Ellis Genge, the England prop, will miss the game after undergoing shoulder surgery, Leicester are at least boosted by the return of Jonny May and Luke Hamilton, while George Ford and Ben Youngs form a quality half-back pairing.

And that particular battle will be a fascinating one. If Ian Keatley’s recent form at 10 holds, Munster will be confident of gaining the upper hand in that department with Conor Murray no doubt relishing the tête-à-tête with Lions team-mate Ben Youngs behind the scrum.

“They’re a quality side, they’re amazing players and an amazing academy set-up they seem to churn out world-class athletes and players.,” Murphy says of the southern province.

Rugby Union - Heineken European Cup - Final - Leicester Tigers v Munster The latest instalment of the Munster-Leicester rivalry will be played out over the next fortnight.

“I’ve been lucky to have some dealings with Johann van Graan when he was coaching South Africa. I know he’s a serious operator and a great coach and for me, he will just add to what Munster already have. It’s going to be a huge task for us to go there.

“Our message has just been focusing on ourselves. It goes without saying that we need to try and get points wherever we can and certainly the winner of the game this weekend will be in pole position in the group but there’s a lot of tough games ahead. Teams are going to knock each other over, we just need to get points where we can.”

Murphy knows better than anyone how hard it is to go to Thomond and come away with anything, but if the history of this fixture tells us anything, it’s that there will be no lack of intensity and ferocity to the occasion even if these once-dominant European heavyweights don’t quite carry the same punch as they did.

He adds: “There’s a great rivalry between Munster and Leicester but we really get on, it goes back a long way. We’ve won big games over there, they’ve won big games over at Welford Road so the guys in the squad are under no illusions of what it takes to go there and get anything.

“Some of them were in the squad that won there two years ago and a lot of them were there last year when we got beaten heavily. We’re aware how important the crowd will be to the evening and we look at all of that. When the bullets start firing it’s how the guys perform on the field and it’s just been about getting the guys in the best place so they can do that.”

And for Murphy getting home is always a nice bonus on these European weekends.

“It’s always nice. It’s nice to get over home and see a few familiar faces. Thomond Park is a very special place, it’s a great place to play rugby. The fans are very knowledgeable and very vocal so from that point of view, it’s a great occasion.”

It would nearly entice you to come home permanently, no?

He laughs: “It would be something I’d be very interested in at some stage, to go home and coach in Ireland. A coaching career is potentially a little bit longer than a playing one so it’s just about developing and putting yourself in a strong place if the opportunities ever do arise.

“It’s definitely something I’ve discussed with my family, one day being around in Ireland and being involved in one of the provincial set-ups. It’s a goal but it may not happen so we’ll have to wait and see.”

Much like his former team-mate Ronan O’Gara, Murphy is prepared to learn his trade elsewhere and then return home with a coaching CV furnished with experience and knowledge garnered from other clubs, leagues and environments.

The future Ireland head coach, via Leicester and Cardiff?

We’ll just have to wait and see.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

11 years after being released by Ulster, Steenson driving Exeter’s pursuit of European success

Playing for Ireland is more important for me than a move abroad – Keith Earls

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