Murphy’s goal spree gives hope to all

The Football League Paper - - CHRIS DUNLAVY -

HANDS up. Who thought Daryl Murphy would be the Cham­pi­onship’s top scorer at Christ­mas? In fact, who backed him to hit dou­ble fig­ures over the en­tire sea­son?

Now put them down again you mas­sive liars. No­body in their right mind would have put even a quid on the Ipswich striker be­ing in Golden Boot con­tention.

It would be like lump­ing on Jimmy White to win the Masters or Rafael Nadal to lose at Roland Gar­ros – his­tory says it sim­ply does not hap­pen.

Yet here he is, sit­ting pretty with 13 goals, see­ing off all­com­ers at the grand old age of 31. It re­ally is a turn­around to ri­val Istanbul, Me­d­i­nah and Head­in­g­ley ’81.

This is a guy who, be­fore this sea­son, had scored a grand to­tal of 39 goals in 336 ap­pear­ances for Sun­der­land, Sh­effield Wed­nes­day, Celtic, Ipswich and the Repub­lic of Ire­land – a strike rate of 0.1 goals per game.

Who, be­fore net­ting 11 times last sea­son, had reached dou­ble fig­ures only once, way back in 2006-07.

Who, in three years at Celtic, scored just once at Park­head and was so un­pop­u­lar that sup­port­ers ser­e­naded him with ironic chants. He was, in short, as deadly as a plas­tic pis­tol.

Yet like so many stats, Murphy’s goal tally fails to tell the full story. Plucked from the Ir­ish league in 2006 and plunged straight into the Premier League, Murphy was a mil­lion miles from ready.

Though he scored ten times in the Cham­pi­onship the fol­low­ing year, Sun­der­land’s in­stant re­turn to the top flight pushed the then 23year-old back out of his depth.

Had he re­mained in the Cham­pi­onship – like com­pa­tri­ots Shane Long and Kevin Doyle – who knows how his as­sur­ance would have grown? In­stead, it dis­in­te­grated on the jagged rocks of a Premier League goal drought. By the time he hit Celtic, Murphy had scored six times in two years.

Con­fi­dence

Com­pound­ing this con­fi­dence is­sue was a prob­lem far more ba­sic – Murphy was rarely played in the right place.

Roy Keane, Paul Jewell, Neil Len­non – at some point, all of them chucked the 6ft 3ins Ir­ish­man on the wing. He grafted. He tracked. He crossed. He did a per­fectly ac­cept­able job. But in­stead of hon­ing the skills he grew up with, he was asked to learn a whole set of new ones.

So huge credit is due to Ipswich man­ager Mick McCarthy for ad­dress­ing all of th­ese prob­lems. He put Murphy up front and kept him there. He gave him a twoyear con­tract.

He also be­stowed on him the vaunted No.9 shirt.

“The num­ber nine makes a big dif­fer­ence to some­one’s con­fi­dence,” said McCarthy last month. “They say it doesn’t mat­ter what num­ber you have on your back, but you don’t see too many num­ber nines on the bench. It makes you feel good about your­self.”

Low and be­hold, the goals are flow­ing. Be­cause Murphy was never a bad player. He was sim­ply a good player used the wrong way. Had McCarthy turned up when he was 25, who knows how many goals he would have scored by now.

Foot­ball is full of play­ers whose ca­reers suf­fered from coach­ing blind spots. Would Thierry Henry be revered as a legend if he’d stayed on the wing at Ju­ven­tus? What if Gareth Bale had stayed at left-back, or the great John Charles re­mained a cen­tre-half?

We’d all love to be­lieve that tal­ent will shine through, that play­ers are in­nately ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

The truth is that they’re all good. If they weren’t, they’d never have made it pro. But some, like Murphy, sim­ply never get the breaks.

At 31, he fi­nally has, thanks to a man­ager who saw what no­body else could. His tale should give hope to ev­ery player writ­ten off as a has-been or never-was.

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