Anyone interested in understanding just how convoluted and strung out contract negotiations can be in the sporting arena should look no further than Conor Murray.
Earlier this week he recommitted to his native Munster and the IRFU.
It was last month when the scrum-half signalled his intention to dispense with even the pretence of looking at options abroad. Staying put was a “no-brainer” he said and yet it still took another six weeks for pen to be put to paper.
Still, it’s done now. Finally. And he’s thankful for that.
“You say you don’t think about it but it’s a weight off the shoulders,” he explained yesterday. “You can kinda focus on rugby now. It would have been a little bit inconvenient if it was hanging over your head and in your mind during the Six Nations.
“It’s quite weird, it’s only a week now to the Wales game. When we came into camp it seemed like a quick turnaround into international rugby. So, yeah, delighted to have it locked away now and not think about it and focus on what you’re here to do.”
His loyalty to Munster has always been blindingly obvious but that isn’t to say that it is given blithely. He spoke again of the advantages to be gained from staying within the IRFU’s player welfare structure and of his belief that his province could put recent difficulties behind them.
He wasn’t the only big name secured long-term last Wednesday. News of Keith Earls’ decision to sign on through to 2019 landed within minutes of Murray’s missive and was probably a greater coup for Munster given the versatile back’s evident flirtation with a switch to Saracens.
“Yeah, the more better players playing for Munster, the better for us and the better chance we have of winning something down the line,” said Murray who is staying through to 2019 at the least.
“We got to the final of the Pro12 last year so there’s something there, it’s just about bringing it out.
“Someone like Keith, who is a hugely experienced player, hugely talented, massively respected by the actions he pulls off on the pitch, he’s a great leader to have in our squad.”
As with all his colleagues, Murray is reluctant to speak in any great depth about those players whose futures have yet to be confirmed. With agents doing the dealing, there is an obvious element of detachment from such things but it is inconceivable that team-mates don’t talk. Especially when those ties are strengthened by friendship.
The next major test for Munster will come in the form of Simon Zebo who has been linked repeatedly with a number of Top 14 clubs and Murray and Munster can ill afford to lose the presence of a man who can light up their back line.
“He’d be one of my good friends who would be in negotiation at the moment. It’s tough. Even before I signed, there was still a bit of toing and froing. You don’t know how he’s getting on behind closed doors, how his agent is getting on. Obviously I hope he stays, he’s a great player.
“He’s a player that puts bums on seats for us. He’s an entertainer, he’s a world class winger on his day and he’d be hugely valuable for us going forward.
“If you asked me do I know, I don’t know, but I certainly hope he does (stay) because that makes our bond stronger with Munster.”
The province has already had to adapt to life without Paul O’Connell, whose loss has been obvious in recent months. The task now is for Ireland to cope with their former captain’s departure a tad better as they chase a unique three-in-a-row of Six Nations titles.
“Yeah, it’s a little bit different now with Paulie’s voice missing but Bestie was one of those voices for as long as I’ve been involved with Ireland so he’s just taken a bit more of a step-up vocally and is leading the team. Anyway, there’s the likes of Jamie, Johnny, Seanie, those lads are still there and we’ve all done it together before.
“We have a good understanding of each other. Obviously, with Paulie missing it’s a big part of our chain that’s missing but that’s the challenge, you can’t say it’s perfect now, we’re going to find out in the next few weeks whether we’ve done well getting on without him. I’m fully confident that we can (win the title again) but the proof will be in the pudding.”
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