Murphy’s goal spree gives hope to all
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.
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.