As he reflects on his latest honour, newly-crowned Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland Player of the Year Conor Murray is also wary of the dangers of admiring his work for too long.
A wonderful yet bittersweet campaign with Munster, Ireland, and the Lions last night saw him recognised by the Irish rugby media for consistent excellence across a season when his team had to deal with the loss of their head coach, Anthony Foley.
Murray, 28, also had to contend with a nerve injury in his shoulder that threatened to end his dream of a Lions tour to New Zealand, so he was entitled to feel so honoured. The scrum-half is not done yet though. This latest recognition does not mark an endpoint but a launchpad.
“Awards are nice, definitely, and this year gone by has been good to me and there have been good performances but you don’t get carried away by them either,” said Murray.
“I still see little things in my game that I want to get better at because the competition is hot everywhere you go and I genuinely mean that.
“You’re 28, you’re here for a while now, and you really appreciate it. The older you get, you understand how hard it is to get in here (to the Ireland squad) and stay here so you just want to keep doing it as long and as best you can.
“That is the most simple way of explaining my motivation. I’ve targets in my head and things I want to get done this year that I’ll keep to myself. I like setting goals for myself but it’s just about being the best you can be.
“You’re 28, I know I’m not pushing on retirement but you want to keep going for as long as you can at a high level. I’m competitive, I want to stay here and get better and see how good I can get. That’s my motivation.
“Awards are really nice but I wouldn’t get fooled by them. I’m not going to say I’ve got this award and now I can just chill out. It doesn’t work like that. The (Ireland) coaches here, we’ve a new camp, new players, and we’re talking about the series coming up and it’s all about that. You just try and get yourself right for that and it moves forward like that very quickly.
“So this is nice, it’s nice to reflect on and for the family to have on the mantelpiece at home, but the show must go on.”
When Murray does look back at last season, it is with a mixture of emotions. Falling to Scarlets in the PRO12 final and drawing a series with the All Blacks are disappointments, yet he accepts they overshadow the achievement of getting to those points.
Munster’s feats in adversity earned them the Dave Guiney Team of the Year award last night and he admitted: “It was a really good year. You find out a lot about yourself and your team when you go through something like that because at the time it was really tough. The decision to play Glasgow (the day after Foley’s funeral) and then just kick on, we just said this is what we need to do and we started performing for the year.
“So I think it’s a well-deserved award for our team, our organisation. Losing Axel, because that’s what this is about really, left a massive hole and everyone just pulled together and took up the mantle of things he might have done. If something needed to be done, people just bought into it unbelievably.
“It was a year and a season you’ll never forget.”
Making another Lions squad had been both a major goal and a relief after six weeks out with a shoulder injury sustained last March. He started all three Tests and picked up a second win over the All Blacks inside eight months when the tourists prevailed in Wellington to add to Ireland’s victory in Chicago.
That the series ended in stalemate after a drawn final Test struck Murray as “weird”, but he added: “I’ve been on two Lions tours now and not lost a series, which is something you can be proud of, but going down there and drawing, no-one likes drawing, that’s the thing. But you talk to people about it and it’s something we should be really proud of as an achievement. I don’t think you can call a draw an achievement but it was a good thing to do. We left with our heads held high, that’s probably the best way to put it.”
It is suggested that given all the pre-tour predictions of All Blacks dominance, he might have settled for a draw. The response is unequivocal.
“No. You want to win, so no.
“People might say that but when you’re in a squad like that and you saw the players we had, I knew we could definitely win. If we clicked we could win it and that’s why we’re in the position we’re in because we want to win all the time. I don’t think anyone in our squad, back to Munster as well, goes into any game thinking if we draw or keep the score down it will be a good day.
“Those underdog days are gone. Our mindset has definitely changed to wanting to win everything, which is good.”
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