Time in lockdown has solidified Conor Murray's ambitions to end his career on a high and the Munster scrum-half believes the province has now got all the ingredients to claim its first silverware since a Celtic League title in 2011.
The Limerick man has used the last three months wisely. Training at home and on a recently acquired road bike has maintained a sense of routine and purpose. More hours have been spent in the kitchen and on new recipes and others again on training Kevin, his new dog.
Murray has enjoyed a hugely successful career stretching back a decade at the top with club, country, and with the British and Irish Lions though his form, superlative for much of that time, has been criticised in the last two years after a serious neck injury.
“I'm 31 now so I don't know how many more years I want to play for – a good few years yet – but I am going to make them probably the best ones yet,” he said in a McSport video interview. “It's just nice to reset and refocus and see where I go.”
Munster and the other three provinces have been free to train as of last Monday but all are actually on summer holidays for now and won't return until later in the month when they will have to abide by strict Covid-19 protocols at their high-performance centre in Limerick.
Murray hasn't played since Ireland's Six Nations defeat to England on February 23rd. Munster's last fixture was a Guinness PRO14 win against Scarlets at Thomond Park six days later. It will take time to readjust the demands of training and then playing but Murray is ready.
“I've thought about this a lot and you can come at it in two ways. You can say you have been away from it for so long and that you might be rusty and it will take ages to get back into it. I've had the outlook that this is an unbelievable time to refresh yourself.
“If you had any niggles in your body just to completely flush them out of your system. Train away but stay fresh. Match fitness will come. The mental side is the biggest benefit I've found. Just to get away from the game and re-energise yourself.”
His take is that this hiatus could well prove beneficial down the line.
“Hopefully it will add a year or two to the end of my career as well. Some players have taken sabbaticals, some southern hemisphere guys over the years, and this is pretty much one of them. I have enjoyed it. It's been tough but you have to look at it in a positive way.”
That positivity is shared by colleagues, coaches, and fans eager to see their new signings in competitive action, hopefully come the weekend of August 22nd when Johann van Graan's side are due to meet Leinster behind-closed-doors at the Aviva Stadium.
Matt Gallagher is due to arrive soon from Saracens, Roman Salanoa has made the shorter trip down the road from Leinster, while RG Snyman and Damian De Allende have already arrived in Limerick after their World Cup-winning exploits last year and brief stints in the J League.
“What they did at the World Cup was really special. Obviously envious of it but incredible to see what they did. To have guys like that to come to our squad which has been there or thereabouts but just come up short in quite a few semi-finals ... and that's part of what I have been focusing on in my time off, is the club.
“It is your bread and butter. Winning something would be... I have been very lucky over the years to win stuff with Ireland and go on a few Lions tours but, genuinely, winning something with Munster is something that is burning in me and something I really want to do. So I am delighted to see those two lads walking around Limerick.”
There are other goals to attain when rugby kicks off again. Ireland have a 2020 Six Nations campaign to see to with outstanding fixtures to fulfill against France and Italy. The Lions are due to tour South Africa. When exactly has yet to be confirmed.
All of that is on Murray's radar but the extra time to think through this pandemic has heightened his awareness of how a chunk of games or even an entire season can pass by before you fully grasp it and he knows now that semi-finals and other big games don't come around every year.
“When you were younger you were just working, working, working, whereas now you realise how hard you have to work to get there. You're more experienced, you realise how hard it is. You just want to be there or thereabouts with a potentially really strong Munster squad.
“Hopefully we can gel well and go back to play with the squad we already had, with the additions we have had and with the coaching staff like Stephen Larkham coming in, it's really challenging.
“It's all kind of there on a platter for us so the players need to grasp it and take as much knowledge of the setup we have and see where we go.”
- McSport’s MY MOTIVATION campaign focuses on 'staying connected, staying positive and staying motivated at home’ during this challenging time. They have teamed up with some of Ireland’s top athletes and leading personal trainers for a series of interviews discussing how they are using this challenging time for good and providing tips and advice