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'I didn't leave somewhere you strive to be the best to strive for second or third'

Jordi Murphy isn’t going to abide by lower standards after switching from double winners Leinster for Ulster.

2018/2019 Heineken Champions Cup  European Rugby Challenge Cup Launch Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

BEFORE THE EIGHT players corralled for yesterday’s Champions Cup launch began to show the discomfort that comes with sitting atop a stool for a prolonged stretch, MC Craig Doyle ensured Jordi Murphy was the first to shift a little awkwardly.

As Murphy’s turn to field questions in front of sponsors, organisers and assembled media, Doyle remarked that Leo Cullen had been looking longingly at his former back row stalwart and wondered whether Murphy was pining back to his native province.

As things unfolded last season, with an early end to Jamie Heaslip’s career and a long lay-off to Sean O’Brien, Murphy’s excellent form made him a vital component in the silver-laden seasons for province and country. Yet all that came long after decision-time came for his contract. 

With the serious knee injury sustained in Chicago not long behind him, Murphy was sizing up options in England and France. But the overriding goal of representing Ireland at next year’s World Cup remained, and so Murphy was more than happy to head north.

“I just weighed everything up and I realised that playing for Ireland, my international ambitions were going to come first,” said the 27-year-old after players had broken out towards a score of interview huddles.

“I wanted to stay in Ireland. It was (realistic to move abroad) for maybe a week or more, but I decided to park it and just look solely within Ireland.

“Basically, playing for Ireland was my main ambition. I’m glad I’m at Ulster for the foreseeable future and I’m going to do as well as I can. Hopefully that leads to playing more for Ireland.”

Clearly, provinces north and east are at very different stages of development at this juncture. With three medals in his pocket from last season, Murphy arrived at the Kingspan Stadium after Ulster needed a play-off to scrape through to the Champions Cup and dot a silver lining on a season in which two coaches headed through the exit door.

New head coach Dan McFarland’s remit is a construction job and the feelgood factor hewn from late salvage jobs in recent matches may not  have held as much weight in Murphy’s former home.

Jordi Murphy Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Never the less, Murphy bristles when asked to compare and contrast the setup and cultures in Clonskeagh and Ravenhill. McFarland doesn’t disguise the wish to bring “intellectual property” from the best team in Europe under his roof and Murphy sounds intent on making Ulster grow accustomed to the taste of victory.

“One thing I can say is that I’ve gone from one very ambitious group to another very ambitious group,” he says.

“I don’t think you can compare them because they’re two completely different setups but one thing I can say is that Ulster Rugby is incredibly ambitious. They want to do as well as they can in both competitions.

If you’re aiming for third or fourth, what’s the point in playing? I didn’t leave somewhere where you strive to be the best to strive for second or third.

“Day in day out, everyone is going into that club to try and be the best player they can. And ultimately to bring Ulster back up, they’ve done well in the last couple of years, but to even greater heights.”

An ankle injury has limited Murphy’s involvement in Ulster’s young campaign, but he’s confident the issue won’t sideline him much longer. So he could have a first inter-pro without the Leinster harp on his chest to play as he builds towards the opening rounds of Europe and Ireland’s November schedule.

If some have expressed an opinion that provincial derbies are dipping in intensity levels because of players moving more freely across borders, that view holds little value for Murphy, and a New Year’s trip to the RDS is already a target he has marked out 

“I don’t think the Leinster game I’m going to play this Christmas is going to be any less spicy.

“We’re playing Munster this weekend. People were saying a few years ago that the games weren’t what they were, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. The level of competition, the level of the league has gone up, the European Cup has gone up another level, but I’ve never gone into an inter-pro game thinking it’s not a big deal if we don’t win.

“You want to be winning those games every time you play them.”

Are you sitting comfortably? The serious part of the season is about to begin.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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