There is the faintest bit of unease on Mervyn Murphy's part when you wonder out loud if he might have one of the best jobs going. In the current economic climate, he gets paid to watch rugby. Pretty much all of the time.
As the Ireland squad's performance analyst since 2001, he's probably pored over more hours of footage than anyone in the land. Part high-tech troglodyte, part video sage, part breaker of codes, he's a living, breathing, mine of information.
Holed up in what the players call the Bunker, surrounded by laptops and cables, he breaks down each match into large chunks, then slightly smaller chunks, and then he sets up a template to analyse how player performed. All the scrums, line-outs, restarts, penalties, carries and tackles are put on a server from where everything can be accessed by coaches and players. Then he goes to work on the opposition. Running the rule over how Jamie Heaslip busted open the France defence or how Tommy Bowe got the bounce of the ball at the Millennium Stadium does seem like a dream posting. But for Murphy, it's less a job and more a way of life.
The week before last was taken up by a series of meetings with the Ireland coaches as well as long hours of meticulous preparation for the upcoming Italy and France games. On the Friday evening, he settled into his office in Galway to edit video packages for the Ireland players involved in the last round of Heineken Cup pool matches, and only emerged just before midnight on Sunday.
After a big Croke Park game, he's pedal to the metal, analysing until 3am. Even after last season's Grand Slam triumph in Cardiff, there was about four hours of electronic sifting to be done back at the team hotel.
"Don't get me wrong, I love my job, but some people don't understand the long hours you put in. You wouldn't be doing it if you weren't totally immersed in rugby. You probably wouldn't last. Rugby has to be your life and when you're that way inclined the other things don't bother you."
Murphy was a centre, a good one, with Connacht, but even after five Ireland A caps, he just knew he was not going anywhere fast. So, at 28, he decided to quit. He took a summer out and headed for Australia. Next thing, the then Ireland coach Warren Gatland was on the phone asking him if he would consider the role of video analyst. He agreed, and Gatland's successor Eddie O'Sullivan came to regard Murphy as the "best video analyst in world rugby".
There is a danger of information overload, and occasionally players have to be reminded that less is more. There's no slavish adherence to stats either. They don't do any great harm, but they're not as meaningful as people think, says Murphy.
Apart from the hours trying to lip-read line-out signals, Murphy films training sessions and is also the conduit for messages that Declan Kidney wants to get to players during games.
There will be times between now and the end of the Six Nations that he will be bleary-eyed, but the search for an edge, no matter how small, will continue. "Mervyn's incredible at what he does. I've never seen anything like it," says one of the Bunker habitués, Paul O'Connell. "He has a great system in place." Watching rugby for a living. Could be worse.
Ireland: One to watch
Brian O'Driscoll If the charge is making a statement of the bleedin' obvious, the plea is guilty! Make the most of the shimmering talents of the now 31-year-old Leinster centre while you can. Cunning and brilliant in attack, devilishly clever in defence, O'Driscoll needs to inspire Ireland on their bogey ground, Stade de France, on 13 February, if they are to defend their Six Nations title.Reuse content