IRISH rugby star Conor Murray has admitted “crazy” rumours of failing a drugs test while out injured “hurt” both him and members of his family.
The Munster and Ireland international only recently returned to action after a neck complaint kept him on the sidelines for almost five months.
The world-class scrum-half spoke out about the incident this week during a motivational talk to members of the defence forces based in Limerick.
Answering a question from Commandant David Slattery on how he deals with the pressure of being in the public eye, Mr Murray said he found his recent layoff difficult.
He said: “The toughest part of this was the outside rumours that my friends and family would hear.
“Crazy stuff that I’d failed all sorts of drugs tests and they were just keeping it under wraps and letting me serve my ban. That kind of hurt a little bit.”
The 29-year-old was present at Sarsfield Barracks in Limerick at the unveiling of a ‘Wall of Champions’ to honour the stellar sporting achievements of the 12th Infantry Batallion.
Mr Murray – whose Munster side travel to Gloucester this Friday night – explained how he decided against disclosing details of his neck injury and said this meant the media “had nothing to feed off”.
He told the troops: “They were guessing what was wrong, and thinking I’m going to have to retire. It’s not nice hearing it for yourself, but then your family don’t really know either.
“They are seeing second hand information. It’s quite tough.” What kept Mr Murray going, he said, was the support from his Munster teammates.
He added: “It was the unity of my team. Munster would hear the same rumours and on Monday morning, they’d be slagging me about it, and make light of it straight away.
“Having a good team around you and a good head space is really important. It helps me. You hear a lot of players saying they don’t read the media or look at Twitter, but you can’t avoid it.
“If you don’t see it on your phone, your friends will say it back to you and it will affect you somehow.”
The scrum-half, who has recently signed a new deal tying him to the province until 2022, gave almost an hour of his time between training sessions to speak to members of the 12th Battalion and help get its 80th anniversary year off to a flying start.
He answered questions from army personnel about all aspects of his playing career, and his rugby style.
He said: “My life and my preparation building up to big games in the weeks and months leading up to big tournaments is similar to you training here, and likely to go overseas in future.
“It can be tough, it can be mundane. As a rugby player, what you might see of our lives online is the good stuff. But believe it or not, we have tough training sessions, we go through tough mental battles. They’re not as tough as yours, but it’s applicable.”
And he admitted it felt “kind of weird” for him to be giving advice to front-line military personnel, given their contrasting careers. He said: “I’m a sportsperson, and you’re into the serious nitty gritty stuff.”
Lt Col Sean Murphy, the commanding officer of the 12th Infantry Battalion at Sarsfield Barracks, said to Mr Murray: “You and your team mates bring a great credit to Munster and Ireland, and obviously a fantastic pride to all Munster and Ireland fans.”
The Wall of Champions was put in place, he added, to recognise the sporting achievements his unit makes on top of other pressures being in the army deals out.
Lt Col Murphy added: “Troops are putting in all this effort. Despite being under pressure, short on numbers, heavily tasked, they are winning such a variety of trophies.
“It wasn’t really captured anywhere else, so we can up with the idea of The Wall of Champions, to put up pictures of our teams and athletes who win at defence forces level.”
The Battalion’s trophy cabinet is packed, with the troops taking home a number of honours in recent years.
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They are the pistol and machine gun champions for the region, as well as the machine gun champion for All-Ireland.
The squadron are also holders of the Cunningham Cup, the defence forces soccer tournament.
In 2016, they were the defence forces’ hurling champions, before they triumphed in football 12 months later.