Private moment in Ireland team hotel that focused Conor Murray on Lions goal
"It was a weird one."
In early March, not many would have predicted Conor Murray as a safe bet for the 2021 Lions Tour. The ones predicting it would have done so with caveats. Ifs, buts and maybes.
Even Murray himself admits he was having doubts. He had only started one game in the Six Nations and was trying to shrug off hamstring issues to get back in the Ireland team, ahead of Jamison Gibson-Park and Craig Casey.
Ireland coach Andy Farrell opted to leave Murray on the bench for the duration of an away win over Scotland. There was only one game left for Murray to make an impact for Ireland and, as a result, put himself back in the Lions picture.
On the latest House of Rugby Ireland episode [LISTEN from 8:30 below], Murray spoke frankly about a chat he had with Farrell before the England game, and a sneak look at the 2021 Lions jersey that helped spur him on.
"It's a weird one," says Conor Murray on his third Lions selection. "Back in 2013, I found out in advance from a journalist in London who had found out [about the squad] and rang me an hour before it was announced.
"I was kind of disappointed about that, as the excitement of finding out on TV is pretty special. In 2017, I was in touch with Warren Gatland as I had injured my neck. He had rang me a few times, to make sure the neck was going to be okay.
"Recently," he adds, "I had no idea. It was such a weird build-up. Over the last few years, with injuries and all that, I was really nervous.
"You know you have a bit of a chance if you feature in the Six Nations, but I really didn't know which way it was going to go. We had our [Munster] captain's run that morning, at Thomond, and lads were looking to meet up, to watch it together. I was like, 'I just need to get away. I'm watching it on my own'.
"Andrew Conway followed me home, as he knew I'd want a few of the fellas around, and Joanna [my partner] was here. We watched it unfold. They dragged it out with a few speeches at the start, but my name came out, in the backs, pretty early. It was an incredible feeling. I think this one means the most, as I probably had to work the hardest for this one, over the last four years, with ups and downs. It was a massive relief, and something I really wanted."
Murray has fond memories of being the Lions go-to scrumhalf for the big games on the 2017 tour to New Zealand. Even back then, though, he was 'mapping it out' and hoping he would still make the cut as a 32-year-old.
To many fans from England, Scotland and Wales, Murray is Ireland's No.9 and that is they way it is and always has been. For those of us following his career more closely, the Limerick native has battled fitness and form issues as he tries to stave off five scrum-halves (Gibson-Park, Casey, Cooney, McGrath and Marmion) that are all on his case.
"It's no so secret that there's been criticism over the last couple of years. That frustrated me, at times, because I didn't agree with quite a lot of it. But you do want to prove them wrong, even if they're not telling the right story. So that motivated me, quite a bit."
There was a moment Murray had with the fresh, 2021 Lions jersey, during the Six Nations, that drove home how much he wanted to be part of the upcoming tour.
"They sent the jerseys to the [Ireland team] hotel, during the championship, to do the head-shots," he recalls.
"Because of Covid, you got the jersey sent to your room and you had to put it on there before you went down to this room, to get the shots taken.
"I put it on and had a weird moment, looking in the mirror and looking down at the jersey, thinking, 'Jeez, this would be really cool to wear the jersey again and have a good crack off it'.
"When you mention the Irish lads [like O'Connell, McBride and O'Driscoll] that have been on three or more tours, I hope I do stay fit and thinks go well, so I can reminisce on stuff like that, when I get back. But to be even mentioned in the same sentence as those lads is really humbling."
Now that he has made the 37-man squad, Murray is not content with going along for the sights and sounds.
"Having started every Test on the last tour," he says, "anything less than that, this time, would leave a bad taste in your mouth. That's where my head is at, at the moment, having got on the plane."
WATCH THAT EPISODE HERE: