HEINEKEN CUP POOL SIX:
Perpignan v Munster
Munster embark on the road to Perpignan this morning with Johne Murphy just delighted his career path has taken the correct turn after a season of soul-searching.
The 29-year-old goes into tomorrow’s make-or-break Heineken Cup pool tie at Stade Aimé Giral in flying form, believing he is finally hitting the heights that prompted Munster to lure him away from Leicester Tigers in the summer of 2010.
Murphy, though, has had to go through some low points to get there, and last season was the nadir. Injuries and poor form restricted him to just eight appearances, all in the Pro12, under new head coach Rob Penney.
“Personally it wasn’t great. It was probably a stage in my career that I was very much questioning myself,” Murphy says. “Just because I felt that I had so much to give and I wasn’t getting an opportunity. Myself and Rob had some tough conversions from his point of view and from my point of view.
“It wasn’t great, but when the lads were producing the goods, it was great to see that and to be around.”
Murphy looked on as Munster defied the odds and their league form to reach the Heineken Cup semi-final last year, winning a quarter-final at Harlequins before pushing French powerhouse Clermont Auvergne all the way in their last-four epic in Montpellier.
Even though he was an observer, team-room experiences before each of those games provided the Kildare man with the highlights of his season that helped approach this campaign in a positive frame of mind.
“Two things stand out for me last year,” says Murphy, “That night before the Harlequins game when Paulie [O’Connell] spoke, and then the night before the Clermont game, when Dougie [Howlett] spoke.
“Those two moments for me last year made everything that I was going through worth it, because to be in that room and to hear those two legends of the game speak... I’m talking about it now and the hairs on the back of my neck are standing up. It was just a phenomenal moment.
“You go through ups and downs during your career, but that’s what makes it all the more sweeter when you look back, in a moment like now when I’m in a decent enough vein of form, you know you went through all that hardship to get to places like this weekend to go out and play and remember those moments when Paul and Doug spoke. They help you through to be a part of that and look, I’m out the other side of it.”
Murphy certainly hit the ground running in September, the final season of the two-year deal he signed in March 2012. Yet he still had to cope with the disappointment of being omitted from the Pro12 clash with Leinster and the following week’s European opener at Edinburgh.
“It’s been a great start. I think I was lucky enough that I didn’t have any injury problems and also in the back of my mind my contract is up at the end of the year, so it was literally with the age I’m at — I’m 29 — it is probably the biggest year of my career so far.
“All the meetings I had at the start of the year with whoever it was, whether it was the sports psychologist or Simon [Mannix, the back coach] or with Rob, it was about trying to nail my colours to the mast very early and just trying to put in the hard graft early and get it down and I’m lucky enough that it’s paid off.
“I suppose I felt that I was in good enough form to play against Leinster and play against Edinburgh — I just didn’t get the nod that weekend and then when I played against Gloucester, it was just about trying to show that I was in good form and it was just about trying to continue that.
“I still feel I have about 15 to 20%, even a bit more to go. I suppose I’m back to the form I was in when I first arrived, which I’ve been searching for for nearly two-and-a-half years. It’s just about trying to keep that going now and making sure I don’t in any way slack off in all my little extras that I’m trying to do.”
There are still elements of doubt in Murphy’s mind, not least regarding where his future lies should Munster decide not to renew his contract in June, yet he travels to Perpignan in good mental shape.
“I’m in a good vein of form but that could all change on Saturday. I personally believe it won’t, because I’m in a good head space and it’s just about repeating that every weekend. Going through the process and making sure I’m doing what I’m being paid to do.
“Most importantly of all I am enjoying it. I’m enjoying being here, I’m enjoying playing, I’m enjoying the roles I’ve been given throughout the squad and that’s the most important thing. Once you’re enjoying the rugby, it makes going out there every Saturday afternoon very easy.
“I’m at the stage now where I need to keep playing and enjoying it. I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be kind of saying ‘God I’m not sure how long I’m going to be doing this. Maybe another four years or five years’, but it’s got to that stage where I’m really trying to enjoy it every weekend. I’ll do that and by just doing that and playing wherever that is, I’m happy.”
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