For Jordi Murphy, last month’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final clash between Leinster and Ulster at the Aviva Stadium was always going to be a day full of emotion.
For this was Murphy’s first time playing against his home province, a team he had played with for seven years and in May of last year, played an integral part in helping Leinster to a fourth European crown.
That narrow loss for Ulster would have been tough to take for the playing group and supporters of the northern province but Murphy takes pride in how such a young squad put it up to the reigning European champions on their home patch.
“No one thought we’d win five out of six in the group in Europe and then to come down to Leinster and put in a really big fight at the Aviva and just come up short at the end was just a mixed feeling afterwards. It was incredibly disappointing to come out at the wrong end but very pleasing to have seen the group stand up, especially a young group where a lot of young guys wouldn’t have played in that type of game before with that kind of crowd, that kind of environment against the European champions.
“So, I thought to a man all the boys stood up and on a different day maybe we would have got a result. It was one of those things that I think will really stand to the group going forward.”
For Murphy, there must have been butterflies in the build-up to that game as he renewed acquaintances with former teammates and close friends and he admits that he was emotional once the referee blew the whistle for full time.
“All week before the game I had a bit of a bubbly sensation in me but after I was a bit more emotional about it. We came so close and it would have been a fairytale for me if we had won, especially in the Aviva, somewhere where I’ve had so many great times but yeah it was great.
“Straight after the game it’s quite a nice feeling to be able to go over to all your old mates and just know that you’ve really gone to battle with them. You can all embrace and get on well and it was a special enough day.”
Of course, Murphy is now developing new relationships and friendships with his new club. Arriving in Belfast ahead of the current campaign, there were plenty of new faces in the playing group and among the coaches and the back-row admits that this helped in the overall experience of settling in.
“I think part of it is we weren’t alone so if only one or two new players were to come in, it might take you a bit longer [to settle in] but the fact that there were quite a number of us that came in together as well, it gave us confidence because it was a new environment for a lot of people. The group of boys are just a great bunch of people so they were really welcoming.
“I think part of it as well was that the squad was so young,” Murphy continued.
“A lot of boys wouldn’t be married or have kids so they have a lot of extra time on their hands when you leave the group you can go and meet up after. One of the boys might be having a barbecue and they’d invite you down and you just feel very welcomed straight off the bat. Belfast is a much smaller place and a lot of the boys live close together so I think it’s just a really good, tight-knit group so it was just very easy to feel comfortable really quickly.”
Although Murphy is only 28, the current age profile of the Ulster squad means he is one of the most experienced players in the current group.
As a result, Murphy has stepped up to a leadership role and although he may not have been comfortable in doing so at the beginning, he believes the experience he has gained in his career to date will benefit the younger members of the squad.
“I think I’ve grown quite a lot as a leader. You come from Leinster and you’ve got like 20 internationals and then you come to Ulster and in the last couple of years they’ve had like five or six so I suppose bringing that kind of experience and leadership to the group.
“While it may not have been the most comfortable thing for me at the start I’ve been in the professional game for a bit longer than some of the boys so it’s just about expressing myself better and be a bit more of a leader to them. It’s just been great to have been injury free and playing in the one position the entire season.”
Murphy may get another opportunity this weekend to get a win over his former team when Ulster host Leinster at the Kingspan Stadium but with both teams already guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, the experienced 28-year-old may be held in reserve for their PRO14 quarter-final clash with Connacht a week later.
Jordi Murphy, Eric O’Sullivan and Michael Lowry were speaking at Kingspan’s Ulster Rugby media event in Dublin today, April 24th, ahead of Saturday’s tie with Leinster at the Kingspan Stadium.
Kingspan delivers high efficiency, low carbon building solutions and is the naming rights partner and front of jersey sponsor of Ulster Rugby.