Peter Stringer and Tomas O’Leary have been left out of Ireland’s Rugby World Cup squad at the expense of 22-year-old Conor Murray. Colm Kinsella reports
STRANGE game this professional rugby. This week, Conor Murray was unveiled as one of Ireland’s three travelling scrum-halves for rugby’s World Cup in New Zealand. The speed of Murray’s promotion has been nothing short of stunning.
As the magnitude of Murray’s achievement was sinking in with the classy Patrickswell half-back, two of his Munster team-mates, Tomas O’Leary and Peter Stringer, were coming to terms with the stark realisation that they had not made the cut for the world’s third biggest sporting event.
A gracious Murray was quick to admit that he felt sympathy for his provincial colleagues, two players who had made significant contributions to his development into a world class scrum-half.
“Peter (Stringer) and Tomas (O’Leary) have been brilliant with me at Munster,” Conor Murray said.
“I have huge respect for them both. Both are world class players. I am only starting off in my career. I am, by no means, near what they have achieved. It has been great working with Peter and Tomas and hopefully it will continue for a few more years to come.
“It was a bit of a surprise to me that I was selected to travel, but it was in the back of my mind that the phone call (from Declan Kidney) might come. It came on Sunday morning. Declan rang me. I was over the moon, delighted. My room mate, Declan Cusack, was next door, so it didn’t take long for word to get out.”
Murray’s current housemates include his provincial colleagues Cusack, Mike Sherry, Dave Kilcoyne and Paddy Butler. All four were quick to appreciate the significance of the scrum-half’s achievement in gaining selection for the squad which departs for New Zealand on Tuesday.
Murray boasts a proud rugby pedigree. His grandfather Con Roche, a talented wing forward, won a Munster Senior Cup medal with Garryowen in 1947 and played a final Ireland trial in the following year. Roche also played a starring role for Munster in a famous battle with Australia at Musgrave Park in December 1947 when the touring Wallabies escaped with a 6-5 victory. The Australians’ match-winning try was created by a forward pass.
How fitting it would be if Con’s grandson Conor gets the chance to avenge that result when Ireland renew rivalry with Australia in their Pool C game in Auckland on Saturday, September 17.
Murray says his seemingly seamless transition to international rugby has been helped by his experiences with Munster in recent seasons.
“I am looking forward to the World Cup. This is my first year properly professional. I got a good run with Munster in the last part of the season,” former St Munchin’s College Senior Cup winner Murray said.
“This time last year I was coming out of pre-season with Munster. I think I was on the bench for the pre-season game with Leicester Tigers at Musgrave Park. I got something like half an hour of a run that night and I was happy with that.
“I was just trying to get into the squad back then. A lot has changed in the meantime, alright.
“Coming into the Irish set up has not been too daunting. You are in a squad full of really experienced players and there are loads of world class players around you, so you can play better around them. It would be worse if you were in a team which was not doing so well. You have confidence in the players around you.
“We have been at Carton House for most of the summer. We have started bonding a good bit as players. With the World Cup coming up, we will be even closer because it will be a smaller group. I am looking forward to that.
“Playing with Munster really helped me when I came into the Irish set-up. You have people like Paulie (Paul O’Connell) and Rog (Ronan O’Gara) working with you there. They are both well respected within the Irish group, so if you can gain their respect at Munster, it makes things a little bit easier to come into the Irish squad and try to gain the respect of people like Brian (O’Driscoll).
“My focus now is to train well and if I can get some game time between now and the World Cup, that would be great. My focus will be on training well as it has been all summer. It has gotten me here.”
While Murray received a golden ticket to participate in rugby’s biggest event, there was bitter disappointment for a number of his provincial team-mates, including experienced props John Hayes and Marcus Horan who failed to gain inclusion in Declan Kidney’s 30-strong squad. Tony Buckley, who moved to Sale from Munster this summer, is one of four props named in the squad for the tournament which begins on Friday, September, 9,