DONNING the captain’s armband for the British and Irish Lions on its tour of South Africa has catapulted Conor Murray from rugby star to rugby legend.
The first person the Limerick scrum-half called was his father and confidant Gerry Murray, who, due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, was almost 14,000 kilometers away, at home, but beaming with pride.
“It’s tremendous, it was very emotional at the time because I was standing on the street and he just rang to tell me he had been asked to be tour captain,” Mr Murray said.
“We’re absolutely thrilled, his two sisters Aisling and Sarah, his mother Barbara, and myself, are all very proud of him.”
The family home in Patrickswell was buzzing with excitement, however, Mr Murray joked that, once the new Lions captain returns home he won’t be allowed milk it: “His sisters are a tremendous influence on him and they keep him on the straight and narrow, and not that he ever had a big head, but he has no chance of it with those two looking after him, they’ll bring him down to earth very quickly.”
Murray is the second Limerick man to be crowned Lions captain, following in the footsteps of his former teammate and mentor at Munster and Ireland, Paul O’Connell. Only 12 Irish men have worn the prestigious armband since the first ever Lions tour of 1888.
Murray’s career was born at the Limerick Garryowen Rugby Club, where his grandfather Con Roche, who also played for Munster, was a renowned player.
Sport is “in the blood” remarked Mr Murray, who was a talented cyclist and iron man athlete in his hey day, and his wife, Barbara, a former Irish international squash player.
Despite being reared in a hurling heartland, a young Conor Murray initially had preferred Gaelic football and soccer, but the lure of the oval ball became too strong in his early teens.
His rugby skills were nurtured at St Munchins Secondary School in Corbally, as his family continued to encourage him at Garryowen and for his one season at Young Munster.
“He went into Garryowen at underage for a while, but to be honest with you, he wasn’t mad about it. He used to try and hide in the mornings when he was supposed to go,” Mr Murray offered.
“When he didn’t like to go, he’d let it go for a while, and then there was a gap from between under 10s and when he went into St Munchins, and thats when (rugby) took off.”
“He was at every Munster match from a young age, and we had to beg, borrow, and steal tickets to get him to those matches. He loves Munster, he’s a Munster man through and through.”
The Coronavirus pandemic kiboshed the family from traveling over to South Africa to see Murray play, but they will all regroup for a family holiday later in the year, they hope.
The excitement at Garryowen RFC has also shot up a pace after Murray’s announcement as Lions captain.
Garryowen chairperson, Paul Neville, said “when the news came in the other night, the texts were flying around, everyone is so extremely proud of Conor, not just in Garryowen, but all over Limerick”.
Murray’s stunning rise to sports stardom is a lesson for all underage players to take note of, Neville added.
“Conor played Senior Cup for the club just over ten years ago, and within playing All-Ireland League rugby he burst into the Munster scene, and within six months he was in the Irish squad for the World Cup on his first tour.”
“To have him go from that to this is fantastic, and it’s great for us to be associated with it.”
Murray follows in the footsteps of other Garryowen greats, “including Tony Ward, Keith Wood, David Wallace, to name a few”.
“There has been a bit of a gap and to have Conor up there now has been brilliant.”
“I sent him a text message to congratulate him and the last thing I said to him was ‘be careful’, please god he will come through without injury.”
“How far Conor has come will resonate with players that success at the highest level is a very real thing, that it is a possibility to go from playing with your club, through to provincial, and international.”
“For such a celebrated player, he will be the pin up boy now, he’s Irish, and he’s Garryowen, so that’s for us to utilise in the best manner possible.”