Every day we’re shining a light on one of our newest arrivals over the summer, and help you get to know each of them before we return to the field later in the month.
Today we speak to Niall Murray, who's in his first full season as a pro player after a breakthrough season in the Academy.
How have your first few weeks been back at The Sportsground, what has it been like?
It has been weird the first two weeks we were in groups of seven which were good fun, it made us closer. We had our fitness session on one of the first days back and the fact that there were only seven of us made it even more competitive and it was also a bit of fun. If it was the full squad it would have been a different story. There is a one-way system in the gym and everyone had a rack to themselves in the first few weeks and you felt you couldn’t talk to anyone properly. Since it has eased off it is getting better and the groups are getting bigger.
Was it tough training in quarantine and how did you find the whole experience being at home?
It was easier for me because I had my little brother Darragh who is on the Academy team to train with me. He kept me motivated and I tried to keep on top of him. We have been able to do scrummaging, passing, and out fitness together. I predicted that the lockdown was going to be happening a few weeks before so my two brothers and I started the process of setting up a home gym. We bought an Olympic barbell and loads of weights, we converted the unused shed at the back to a gym, which I was lucky to have.
You recently graduated from the Academy to the Pro Team, what would you say your overall experience was like in the Connacht Rugby academy?
I was lucky to get integrated last year because there was a second-row crisis, unlucky for some but I was grateful for getting the call. Ambrose Conboy helped me a lot, he helped me with the lineouts and made my journey that bit easier. I got integrated fairly early into my Academy years.
Who would you say was a massive influence in developing you as a player through the Academy?
Mossy helped me hugely with my skills and Cully Tucker took me for the age-grades when I was in school. Eric Elwood has been a massive help and the likes of Deidre Lyons and Aidan O’Flynn have helped me massively with the mental skills to progress in my career.
How did you end up in the Academy?
I played soccer and Gaelic football up to the age of 16. I didn’t start rugby until I was that age, I was fairly late coming onto the scene. I was lucky to get called into the Connacht U17 trial and I was a center at that time, I was halfway through the trial and one of the managers came over to me and asked me how I would feel about playing in the second row. Initially, I thought I haven’t a clue how to play there but I haven’t looked back since, I am grateful for him suggesting that change.
Our vision is grassroots to green shirts, How important is it that the pathway is there for players to continue to come up through the Academy into the first team?
It is always good to see a homegrown player coming in up through the age grades and then from the Sub Academy to the Academy and eventually getting a PRO contract. Even for me, I am very grateful for my managers who have helped me along the way.
There’s a lot of competition for places in your position so I presume you’re all eager to impress ahead of the Interpros?
The three months of quarantine helped everyone to train and get their bodies back in the right state and get all those little niggles out. There are four second-rows in the squad at the moment, two will be starting and one will be on the bench so let’s hope that I get one of those three positions.
What would like to achieve with your first PRO season with Connacht rugby?
I have long term plans, I am only 20 years of age now and I am trying to get onto the starting team and if not on the bench. I want to make Andy Friend’s job a lot harder and give him headaches for that second-row position. I need to keep pushing on and fight for that starting position. It’s a two-year plan to get that second-row position nailed down and locked on.
What is an interesting fact about you that the Connacht supporters would not know?
I was offered to go to Florida to play Australian rules. I attended an AFL combine set up in Dublin by Tadhg Kennelly, three people were selected, I got chosen to go on the trip to Florida to play with the team during their Pre-Season and eventually could have moved to Australia to play. I was playing with the U18’s at the time and was just starting up so I decided to keep going with rugby instead.