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'It was tough leaving Leinster but it was definitely the right decision'

Jordi Murphy has signed a new two-contract to keep him at Ulster until 2022 at least.

LIKE MOST SPORTS fans, Jordi Murphy has been whiling away a few hours of lockdown by tuning into ‘The Last Dance’ in recent weeks.

And like so many others, the Ulster back row found himself counting down the days until the release of the next episodes of the series about the Michael Jordan era at the Chicago Bulls.

For NBA fan Murphy, the show has been one of the highlights of the lockdown and he admits he’s happy it was staggered “because it’s the kind of thing I could have seen myself watching for ten hours in a row.”

jordi-murphy-celebrates Murphy has signed on for two more years with Ulster. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

For a professional sportsman like himself, the experience has even been a little educational.

“There’s some pretty good learnings for everyone to see the level of commitment and heart that he [Jordan] puts into his craft,” said Murphy on an Ulster conference call today. “It was pretty incredible.”

Asked if he’s played with anyone in rugby who has similar traits to Jordan, Murphy brings up one of the Irish game’s greats.

“Someone like Paul O’Connell,” said Murphy. “I only got to play with him for the last two or three years of his career but he was one of those people who didn’t leave anything to chance, was always so well prepared and looked after himself incredibly well.

“He’d had a few injuries earlier in his career but even the time that he put into the extras in the gym and the video room. He was a pretty incredible competitor and it showed those times when I played for Ireland with him and the odd time that I got to play against him when he was at Munster.

“When you look at Michael Jordan, he seems to scare a lot of his team-mates, but Paulie wasn’t quite like that. Everybody would have had the utmost respect for him but he was a great guy as well so he was the best of both worlds.”

Watching Netflix has been one of the releases during a strange time for Murphy and his Ulster team-mates. They still don’t have clarity over when they will be back in training together or out on the pitch playing.

At least Murphy isn’t among that group of players who don’t have contracts in place beyond this summer. Ulster confirmed last week that Murphy has signed a new two-year deal to remain with the northern province through until 2022 at least.

Murphy explained that staying in Belfast was an easy decision.

“Obviously in the first place, it was tough leaving Leinster but it was definitely the right decision,” said Murphy of moving to Ulster in 2018. “That has been cemented for me just the way things have gone for the last year and a half.

robert-baloucoune-celebrates-scoring-a-try-with-david-shanahan-jordi-murphy-and-sean-reidy Murphy celebrates an Ulster try this season. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“When I was coming in, there was quite a bit of uncertainty around the squad and the coaching ticket. But Ulster have done a really good job of signing some quality players, bringing people through the academy, the coaching ticket is obviously very strong – some really young, talented coaches.

“Last season, we surpassed a lot of people on the outside’s expectations but we knew internally that we had a lot of good rugby in us. We felt like we were in a good place this season before everything stalled.”

With himself and his partner, Laura, happy with life in Belfast, Murphy made his decision as early as January after a brief glance elsewhere.

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“I would always have a look around, chatting with my agent Niall [Woods], we’d have a look at other options, but in the back of my mind I always knew that I really wanted to stick around. I feel like I’m part of the culture here now but I also definitely feel like there’s a lot more to give from my end.”

Ongoing Ireland ambitions were another part of the picture. 30-times capped Murphy missed out on selection for the original World Cup squad last year but flew out to Japan as injury cover.

The openside was overlooked for this year’s Six Nations under Andy Farrell but got honest feedback from the new boss and remains as determined as ever to get back in the mix.

“Faz rang me before the Christmas camp and said they were going to bring in some new faces and that I’d had some good games but maybe not consistently enough,” explained Murphy. 

“He gave me a couple of things to work on and I went back to the drawing board. Around that Christmas period, I didn’t do enough to get picked for the Six Nations unfortunately.

“I’ve talked with some of the coaches at Ulster about how I can improve my game and that’s all you can do. There’s plenty of setbacks in a game like rugby and you have to move on and try and find a way to get picked.”

jordi-murphy-arrives Murphy has 30 caps for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

That’s all on hold for now as Murphy and co. wait to find out what comes next for rugby in Ireland.

There is some hope of inter-provincial games in August but the players are still training at home and don’t have clarity over when they will start coming back together in small groups for collective training.

Murphy has been in Belfast for the lockdown, so hasn’t seen his family for months, and admits it has been a testing time.

“I’ll be honest with you, it’s been tough,” said Murphy. ”The first few weeks was ok because it was new and you had the motivation there.

“But as time goes on and there’s that bit of uncertainty and you don’t really know what lies ahead, there have been some days where it’s been tough to get motivated, especially when you’re doing things in an isolated manner and training on your own.

“The uncertainty of not knowing when things are going to be back has been tough so I’ve definitely felt a bit anxious in the last while, which is a feeling that I’ve never really had before.

“Trying to deal with that has been tough, so I’ve been chatting away to family and friends, making sure I get out and get some exercise. That definitely helps.”

Murphy can’t shed any light on what will happen with the return to play but he certainly wouldn’t say no to a few inter-pro derbies.

“Inter-pros always have that little bit of extra bite, not just because you’re playing against people that you know, friends, but any inter-pro is a bit of a trial match, especially if you have ambitions to play for Ireland, which 100% of the people eligible to play for them would have.

“If the first game happens to be an inter-pro, that would be brilliant.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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