Conor Murray: 'Being written off does add to motivation'

It's the selection call that has divided opinion like no other in this new Andy Farrell era but Conor Murray and John Cooney put up a united and, it has to be said, relaxed front when they sat down together in front of the media at the National Sports Campus on Monday.

Conor Murray: 'Being written off does add to motivation'

It's the selection call that has divided opinion like no other in this new Andy Farrell era but Conor Murray and John Cooney put up a united and, it has to be said, relaxed front when they sat down together in front of the media at the National Sports Campus on Monday.

It seemed an odd ploy at first but the bonhomie between the pair, and a personal history stretching back a decade to their time in the same U20s setup, was immediately obvious as they were quizzed on their budding rivalry over the Irish No.9 jersey.

“We're not that bad lads, don't make it out to be worse than it is!” Murray joked at one point.

They stopped just short of finishing each other's sentences at times though it was Cooney who had helped bring an end to proceedings two days ago after replacing Murray on the hour during Ireland's 19-12 Six Nations defeat of Scotland in Dublin.

The cheer that greeted the Ulster nine's introduction was among the loudest of the day. It couldn't have escaped the attention of Murray who will have heard the clamour for his colleague and rival's inclusion in the starting side all of last week.

“Not difficult,” he said of all that. “It's all credit to John. He is having an unbelievable season and you respect that. As soon as he came into camp it's about Ireland. Everyone wants to start, Lukey [McGrath was] involved as well, but as a group of three we are all working together and trying to figure this out together and out us into the best position to perform.

“I got the nod last weekend and John and Luke were really good to me in terms of analysis and just chats here and there. It does add a bit in terms of motivation. You want to put in a performance. People start writing you off and things like that so naturally there was a bit of that there but, in our position, having a calm head is probably one of the most important things you could do so trying to balance that was the challenge.”

Murray has welcomed the challenge from within to his claim on the jersey. His own performance was a tableau of the good and bad, like the team itself, and he was impressed with Cooney's contribution off the bench when the game still hung in the balance.

Cooney made some excellent tackles and chipped one superb kick over the back of the Scottish line to release the pressure at a critical juncture but Farrell has stressed more than anything else the need for speed when passing from the base of the ruck.

Everything we know of Cooney suggests this is js another box he will tick. His path to this point has been far more curcuitothan Murray's since their days soldiering together in the underage grades and it has imbued him with a mental toughness that belies his size.

'The Obstacle In The Way' by Ryan Halliday is just one of the many books he has mined to further his career and help him absorb and use perceived setbacks for good so the 'failure' to make the starting XV against the Scots was never going to weigh him down.

“No, it wasn't to be honest because I just saw that I was in a much better position than I was this time last year when I probably got into the squad on the back of a couple of injuries,” he explained at the team's base at the National Sports Campus.

“So, I was facilitating for the team and it was important coming on - I hadn't subbed too often this year with Ulster - for me to perform and just ease into the team whenever I could so I was happy with the 20 minutes I got.”

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