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Conor Murray: Munster in 'good spirits' again, but sting of Racing defeat driving hunt for silverware

‘If we go another year without a trophy it just builds that pressure again.’

CONOR MURRAY DONNED all his finery on Wednesday for a Grand Slam winners’ reception with President Michael D Higgins at Aras An Uachtarain.

However, above the smart suit, Murray bore a small yet conspicuous scar on his temple.

President Michael D. Higgins with Conor Murray, Rob Kearney and Keith EarlsSource: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

It's not proof of his skirmishes in Bordeaux. Just evidence of an intense Tuesday training session in Limerick.

Given the pivotal role Ireland's two leading half-backs play for country and province, it's often assumed that Murray and Johnny Sexton get the cotton wool treatment from coaches. Particularly now, in the thick of the business end of the season.

"That's the last thing you want to do," contends Murray.

There is a frustration Munster need to work out of their system.

The sting of being blown away in the first half of their Champions Cup semi-final against Racing remains, and tomorrow's Pro14 playoff match at home to Edinburgh is the first opportunity to sooth it.

"I'd be lying if I told you I didn't think about the Racing game quite a bit since then, and I still am thinking about it. It's how you manage it yourself, it's a natural thing that you have to go through and pitch up.

"It would be worse if the Racing game was the last game of the season, and you didn't have a chance to play a game, play well and get over it, that's the beauty of where we are this season; we have the chance to win a quarter-final and perform and get back into good spirits - which we are.

Conor Murray after the game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

"We've gotten over it pretty well, we're all mature enough to know how to get over these things, and the chance to win a trophy is massive - Europe is obviously number one, there's never any hiding that with Munster, but to win a trophy would be brilliant for us as a group."

Peter O'Mahony set the tone post-match in Bordeaux by saying he was 'sick of learning lessons'. Munster are desperate to avoid feeling that horrible 'not again' feeling that hit them halfway through their sixth European semi-final loss since lifting the Heineken Cup in 2008.

Since the Celtic League, now Pro14, brought in a playoff and final format in 2009, Munster (who won the 2008/9 season in the old league format) have fared better in the 'domestic' competition, reaching three finals.

But with only one win in that time, there is a ravenous hunger in the southern province to end a seven-year trophy drought.

That 2011 win over Leinster in Thomond Park was one of many highlights in a magnificent breakthrough year for Murray.

"I was obviously a newcomer to the squad," Murray says of the team he graced alongside Ronan O'Gara, Marcus Horan, John Hayes, Donnacha O'Callaghan and Paul O'Connell.

The Old Guard are long gone, Murray wants to taste victory with his peers.

Conor Murray Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

"This time now I've a lot of close mates and lads I've been playing with for years, and that would make it really special to win something with this group of players, because you've gone through a lot of heartache with them over the years.

Not that you ever 'deserve' it, but we have the ability to be a trophy-winning team, and I think the players believe that and that's where our hunger is, it would mean an awful lot."

There are still three big steps to take before silverware is within touching distance, of course. Munster have spent the past 10 days engaging in some harsh introspection, but Edinburgh won't meet a Munster team changing tack at Thomond tomorrow. Just a side full of individuals endeavouring to atone for lapses in Stade Chaban Delmas.

Even the world's best scrum-half had black marks on his performance chart, notably a missed tackle on Virimi Vakatawa which led to Teddy Thomas' second try.

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"I've looked back at it a few times now, I just over chased him (Vakatawa). We studied people like him, and knew he could step off his right, I just got my tackle entry wrong really.

"(That's) a mindset thing, probably. I was thinking more so of what was going on on the outside more so than him. You look at it in the review, you go through it with the coaches and you try fix it in training. That's something I've looked at and tried to make sure I don't do it again.

Conor Murray eir sport and the Guinness PRO14 have agreed a landmark partnership to broadcast every game for the next three years from the 2018/19 season. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

"People were asking: 'what was the reason?' We reviewed it and it was just one or two individual errors that we switched off for and suddenly they score three tries!

"Teddy Thomas -- he should have scored three, but he gave one to (Maxime) Machenaud -- just gave us too much to do, it was one of the more frustrating semi-finals, we’ve been in a few now.

"What we put into get to this one, to not perform is the most frustrating thing. That wasn’t us in the first 20."

Against an Edinburgh team who have powered their way into the Pro14 playoffs with eight wins in their 10 matches this year, it's imperative that the real Munster show up,  stand up and take a big step towards a trophy.

"If we go another year without a trophy it just builds that pressure again, and that's the bold facts of it.

"That's in the back of our minds. Since the Racing game all we've wanted to do is perform this weekend, as close as we can to our potential. And if we do that, with respect to Edinburgh - who are on an unbelievable run of form - we just want to show everyone how we can perform, and get rid of that Racing game.

"Then to end with a trophy would take a bit of heat off."

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Sean Farrell

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