THERE was a time when football seemed to have given up on Daryl Murphy. Certainly plenty of managers had.
Giovanni Trapattoni may have picked him in his first five squads but when squad number six was announced, Murphy’s name was absent from it and he has yet to be given a reason why.
Later he’d move to Celtic but would wonder why Celtic moved for him. Scarcely used, he went on loan to Ipswich, forming a closer relationship with Roy Keane than most players do. “It’s not very complicated when it comes to Roy,” he says. “You work hard and do what he asks. He’s an incredibly fair man.”
Others weren’t as fair. Trapattoni, Neil Lennon and Paul Jewell kind of liked him but not that much to play him in his preferred position, and certainly not as highly as the regard Keane and his Saipan nemesis, Mick McCarthy, held him in.
“He’s turned my career around,” says Murphy of the former Ireland manager, who quickly contests the Waterford man’s opinion. “In actual fact, Daryl is the one who has turned it around,” McCarthy says.
And how. Seventeen goals for Ipswich this season — as many as he managed during spells with Sunderland and Celtic combined — have made the 31-year-old the Championship’s top scorer and sustained his presence in the Ireland squad, after his recall last February ended a five-year absence.
“At the start of this season, I said to myself, ‘right, you did well last year, Daryl, but I want to do even better this time’.
“I can’t rest on my laurels. In any case, the gaffer wouldn’t allow it. He told everyone they had a clean slate. ‘Everything will be based on what you do now,’ he said to us.
“I didn’t even need to be told. I’m hungry for promotion. Last year we got so close and were very disappointed to miss out on the play-offs. Had David McGoldrick not got injured for the run-in then who knows where we could have ended up?
“So we want to win promotion. And, on a personal level, I want to stay in the Ireland squad. To do that I need to up my performances yet again.”
They have certainly improved so far this year. The 17 goals only partially tell the story of his and Ipswich’s season. The real story is how a team, put together for just £10,000, has climbed off the bottom of the Championship two years ago to now stand on the verge of promotion.
“I can’t talk highly enough of Mick and what he has done for me,” says Murphy. “His man management skills are the best I have ever worked with. You could be doing well but you might make a few mistakes in games and he will point out ways you can improve your game. He is more than capable of keeping you on your toes.
“That is definitely his best skill. He gets the best out of players. You know what he wants. You know the way he wants you to play.
“People enjoy working with him, hence why we can get players in at Ipswich, whereas in the last year under Paul Jewell there was a hesitancy from players to come here. Paul found it hard to persuade guys to sign whereas Mick has managed to bring quality players in on free transfers. You have to give him credit for that.”
And he has to be given credit for redirecting Murphy’s career from one that was veering off in no particular direction to a place where he is regarded as one of the best strikers earning a corn outside the Premier League.
“Let’s be honest here, my career has been stop-start,” said Murphy. “I’ve done my moving around — in more ways than one. From a positional sense, I’ve done stints at left-wing. I’ve always said I’ll do a job there for the team but I’m just much better up front and the gaffer has realised that. That was why he gave me the number nine shirt. You don’t see too many number nines on the wing or on the bench, do you?”
Yet the bench was where he spent the majority of his Celtic career and the wing is where he mainly played for Sunderland.
“What annoys me is that I will see stats about how many games I have played and goals I’ve scored and it will say ‘striker’, but I have played most of my career as a left midfielder,” Murphy says. “I always wanted to play as a striker, but then I might not have played as many games as I did for Sunderland if I’d said no to a request to go out left.
“As for Celtic, that time frustrates me. Had I played regularly there, I would have scored goals in that league, because it’s not as good as the Championship. That is no disrespect to it, there are some very good players up there, but it is just not as competitive and demanding.
“I just never seemed to get a chance. Ipswich wanted me on loan and I wanted to go and play. Neil (Lennon, Celtic’s then manager) said I was still in his plans and I said, ‘I am not really, because I have not played, so I am obviously not in your plans. I can’t wait around for somebody to get injured or suspended.’ The Celtic thing knocked me back a few years, career-wise.”
Overall, though, fate has treated him fairly kindly. He remembers how it was. Homesick as a teenager at Luton, he came back to Waterford United, his home town club, earned €500 a week and almost single-handedly brought them to the 2004 FAI Cup final.
The following season, McCarthy, then Sunderland’s manager, came to see him play against UCD and tabled a £100,000 bid a week later, which highlights how good his eye for talent is because Murphy neither scored in that game nor played particularly well.
Yet they have time for each other. “He’s quite like Roy. You work hard and he respects you. If you are lazy, you don’t play. So when he walked through the door at Ipswich (to replace Jewell) I was delighted.”
And his career took off again. There on loan, McCarthy offered him a permanent contract. And then he grabbed the number nine shirt, resulting in this season — his 14th as a pro — being his best.
“Club wise, there have been good times, particularly with Sunderland, but also some frustrating moments. I’ve never let it affect my confidence because I’m not the type to get stuck in a rut and feel sorry for myself.
“But I want to play regularly. Staying at a club to pick up a wage isn’t my style. We have high hopes for success here at Ipswich. Getting to the Premier League is the aim and we definitely believe that can be done.”
And with Keane involved in the international scene, Murphy knows his other mentor will give him a chance.
“It was great for Ireland that Roy turned down Celtic to stay involved with Martin O’Neill. He has been brilliant since he got in there and all the lads are enjoying working under him.
“I especially like playing under him. With the age I am at and the amount of years I have been out of it I thought that I wouldn’t get another chance with Ireland. I want to make a contribution just to give something back for the faith he and Martin O’Neill have shown in putting me back in the squad. Before I retire I definitely want to score for my country.
“It was disappointing the way it ended for me under Trapattoni. It was my wife who rang me and told me that the squad was out and that I wasn’t in it which is not a nice way to find out. Even if somebody from the FAI had just texted me and said, ‘we are going with somebody else this time to have a look at’, that would have been fine, but to hear nothing at all really annoyed me.”
Other things would irk too, the lack of faith from Lennon, the lack of morale at Ipswich under Jewell. Ironically it took two enemies, McCarthy and Keane, to get new jobs for Murphy’s career to turn around with both club and country.
Football may have given up on him but he never gave up on it.