MURPHY’S LAW: Bann hooker buzzing after ‘surreal’ Ulster debut

Get off me! Banbridge man Jonny Murphy shone in his Ulster debut on Sunday. Pics: John Dickson / dicksondigital.com
Get off me! Banbridge man Jonny Murphy shone in his Ulster debut on Sunday. Pics: John Dickson / dicksondigital.com
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A puff of the cheeks, one step over the line and it had all begun.

Another local sporting star was born on Sunday afternoon when a Banbridge hooker made his senior debut for Ulster Rugby.

There’s perhaps a certain de ja vu about that as Jonny Murphy followed almost perfectly in the footsteps left behind by Ireland skipper Rory Best.

Murphy, a former Banbridge High School student, was introduced to the Ravenhill crowd in the single point defeat to Scarlets.

The call-up was a welcome one for the 24 year-old, an Ulster Academy graduate who has been biding his time in the Ulster A side while also playing for Ballynahinch.

But as the Six Nations campaign took fellow Bann man Best out of the senior squad, he knew his time was coming close.

'We've got the same hat on!' Discussing tactics in front of a packed Ravenhill.

'We've got the same hat on!' Discussing tactics in front of a packed Ravenhill.

“Rory is obviously unavailable and Rob (Herring) had a bit of a niggle so I knew there was a chance that I was going to be in,” he said.

“I was more nervous at the start of the week I suppose, before the team was announced.

“Then when I knew I was on the bench, I tried not to think about it too much.

“On Sunday morning, I woke up pretty early and I was never getting back to sleep.”

“You sort of block out the 15,000 people watching you. It’s strange.”

Jonny Murphy

Tiredness, however, was never going to be on Murphy’s mind as he made the trip to Ravenhill - or the Kingspan Stadium.

It’s a match-day journey he has made plenty of times before. But this trip was just a little different.

“I always went down to Ravenhill with my neighbour Bradley Martin when I was younger and thought how great it would be to be out there,” he told the ‘LEADER.’

“It’s surreal then, when you’re on the pitch rather than in the crowd.

Don't stop me now! Murphy jinks his way through Scarlets.

Don't stop me now! Murphy jinks his way through Scarlets.

“Before I went on, Joe (Barakat - Assistant Coach) had a word with me and told me to enjoy it.

“As soon as I got onto the pitch, the nerves left me.

“It just becomes another game of rugby as if it’s at Rifle Park or at Ballymacarn Park playing for Banbridge or Ballynahinch.

“You sort of block out the 15,000 people watching you. It’s strange.

“You can hear them but you can’t really see them.

“There was once when we got a line-out, the nerves came back a bit as I went to take the throw.

Keep your cool! Murphy said he felt a few nerves when throwing the line-out for his province.

Keep your cool! Murphy said he felt a few nerves when throwing the line-out for his province.

“I knew what I had to do though and it was just the same as doing it any other week.”

Murphy showed the maturity required to play at senior level. If he can do it half as often as Best has, he’ll do just fine.

And he’s full of the same ambition as his predecessor from Banbridge.

“Of course, playing for Ireland is always a dream,” he said, “but at the minute, I need to concentrate on getting more opportunities with Ulster. If I can do that, then you never know what might happen.”

Murphy began his career the same way as Best, playing mini-rugby at Banbridge RFC.

He has since come through the Ulster Academy and he’s hoping Sunday’s debut may just be key to unlock a lasting senior career.

“You work hard every day for this opportunity and it’s great to get the first cap under your belt to prove that you’re good enough and that you’re ready to go,” he said.

“I came through the Academy and I’m now a development player. It’s a stepping stone to that senior contract so that’s the main aim next. At this time of the year, boys are just starting negotiations for contracts so I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”

Murphy, however, couldn’t have it any tougher to cement a regular spot in the line-up.

Not only would he have to surpass Rory Best, but also fellow-hooker Rob Herring, another Ireland star.

“It’s a competitive position but if I want to get in ahead of them, I have to be better than them,” he said.

“That can only help my game and make me a better player.

“Rory’s one of the best hookers in the world so there’s no better man to learn from and look up to. He’s a very influential player and is looked up to by everybody in the squad.

“Everyone says as a forward you’re like a fine wine and get better with age so I’ll just have to be patient and be ready.”

Murphy is already an old head on young shoulders and is studying law with the Open University with one eye on a post-rugby career.

Now he faces an anxious wait to discover if he will retain his place in the squad for Sunday’s trip to face Cardiff Blues.

Whatever happens next weekend, Murphy is playing the long game. And who knows, Banbridge may have provided the natural successor to Rory Best.