Shane Lowry and an incredible sporting prediction that eventually paid off
Called it way before everyone else.
Back in February, few would have confidently predicted Conor Murray making the British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa. We bet Shane Lowry did not sweat it for a moment, though.
After four rounds of the 2021 Six Nations, Murray was wondering where he stood in the plans of Ireland coach Andy Farrell. The Munster scrumhalf had begun the championship alongside Johnny Sexton, against Wales, but had been nudged out by Jamison Gibson-Park as Ireland came back from a losing start.
Murray missed out entirely on the away win over Italy - Craig Casey made his debut off the bench when he replaced Gibson-Park - and was an unused sub in the Scotland victory. Farrell chose to start him against England and it paid off - in many ways and for many players - when Eddie Jones side were completely rumbled at Lansdowne Road.
Murray took that form back to Munster and was then named by Warren Gatland for what would be his third Lions squad inclusion. A month later, after Alun Wyn Jones was injured in the first warm-up, against Japan, the Limerick native was named tour captain. At the time, Murray commented:
"There will be a bit more responsibility, but I don't think it should change anything around the camp. That's one of the most important things - that I remain myself and I assume that's why Warren asked me to do it...
"I've been lucky enough to experience a lot of leaders and they always bring it back to who you're trying to make proud and what you're here for. Driving that message is important."
Conor Murray: The British & Irish Lions captain. Who would have predicted that?
Well, as it turns out, two leading Irish sports stars.
Conor Murray for the Lions captain? What do we think of that??? Probably one of the only guys who is guaranteed a starting spot...
— Shane Lowry (@ShaneLowryGolf) December 26, 2016
Shane Lowry's early Conor Murray call.
We start off with the early oracle, Shane Lowry.
The Ryder Cup star made the suggestion in December 2016, at a time when Murray's stock was on the rise. He had scored a try and played the full 80 minutes in the Soldier Field win over New Zealand, and had performed well when the All Blacks came to Dublin a fortnight later, and in the win over Australia. He was also flying it for Munster.
Still, predicting Murray as Lions captain would have been a stretch for even some of his most ardent fans.
Donncha O'Callaghan, though, liked where Lowry was coming from.
Donncha O'Callaghan praise for Murray.
Back in 2017, just after Ireland beat France in Dublin and Murray had put in another great showing, O'Callaghan told House of Rugby that Murray and England lock Maro Itoje should both be in the Lions captaincy conversation. He declared:
"100%, Conor is the best number 9 in world rugby. You don't even have to think about it. He is a country mile ahead too...
"I think himself and Maro Itoje are the only two who you can say are definitely going to start for the lions. They've put in massive performances.
"I know everyone is talking about captains for the Lions, I think they are going to find it really difficult when you struggle to pick the rest of the team. There is no-one else that is so far ahead of the rest in terms of [jersey] competition."
As it turned out, in the summer of 2017, Sam Warburton was named Lions tour captain, although Murray's Munster and Ireland teammate Peter O'Mahony led the tourists out in the First Test against the All Blacks.