Pat Dolan told the Blues fundraiser headlined by Andy Gray the other week that a League of Ireland player being capped for his country while plying his trade at home doesn’t have to be an impossible dream. He’d said as much to some of his players when manager of Cork City. How they laughed. Kevin Doyle and Shane Long are now a Republic regular/reserve respectively.
The reality is that players have to leave these shores to, first improve, then gain recognition. There’s no arguing that going overseas – which takes a combination of talent, ambition and luck – has made the likes of Doyle and Noel Hunt better players, forcing them to up their game.
Brian Murphy is a case a point. The Bohs’ keeper, who has just helped his club to the double – crucially saving two penalties as well as several earlier stops in Sunday’s FAI Cup Final shoot-out victory over Derry City – is one of the league’s hottest properties, with Hibs said to be eyeing up a stg£100,000 bid for his services (a scandalously-small but typically-opportunistic sum.)
After conceding just 13 goals in 33 league games this season, and kept 40 clean sheets in 60 starts up to last weekend, the former Waterford Bohemians schoolboy was recently named Eircom league Player of the Year after receiving more than half the votes in a poll of over 40,000 fans.
Gypsies supporters have long since taken to chanting “Murphy for Ireland.” While Shay Given, with 91 appearances already, should go on to become Ireland’s most-capped player by miles (though the mind boggles as to how Kevin Kilbane now has 92 internationals to his name), one would think Murphy deserves a call-up to the squad at least.
The Waterford native has been capped at every level up to U21 level but isn’t even near Giovanni Trapattoni’s radar, it seems. (He’s too busy perhaps trying to set Given up in Serie A?) Neither the Irish manager, on €2m a year, nor any of his army of assistants, were present for what’s supposed to be Irish soccer’s Blue Riband event – a “scandalous” state of affairs, Fenlon rapped, and with good reason given some of the envelope-openings Trap has attended.
“This is the Cup final, the showcase for our season and people can’t bother their backsides turning up. It’s very disappointing. I have given people in the FAI credit for the work they are doing but surely someone from the national team can come to a game and at least see if someone like Brian Murphy is suitable.” Fenlon smarted. “Brian was different class but he’s been that way all season. There’s no doubt in my mind that he should be in the senior squad. Shay Given is top quality but I think Brian is better than what’s been in the squad for the past year or two.”
Brian himself doesn’t expect to hear an Italian speaking broken English on his mobile anytime soon. Only 25 since May, he has a good decade left at least. And when you see some of the imposters flapping around the English Premier League (like Spurs’ Heurelho Gomes – allegedly “world-class” according to Gus Hiddink) you’d think that Murphy must be worth a punt by a half-decent cross-channel club.
Having been on Man City’s books for three years before losing patience, and subsequently confidence at Swansea, returning to Ireland “completely fed up”, Murphy firmly believes the top teams here would be well able to compete at League One level in England.
He signed a new deal with Bohs this time last year to ward off overseas admirers but, with the game here in such a state and his club, despite pocketing relatively hefty prize-money of late, no means immune to what Dolan describes as domestic football’s “disease”, it’ll be no surprise if Brian tries his hand again across the water.
Whatever happens in the months and years ahead, Murphy has come a long way since somewhat reluctantly starting his soccer career in the Waterford Schoolboy League. A rising hurling star with Ballygunner back then (he’d probably be playing with Eoin Kelly et al now), who also had an Irish schools rugby trial, Brian used to play outfield for Dunmore United and “hated going in goal.” As luck would have it, “I went between the sticks when we were stuck one day, I saved everything and had a stormer.”
After coming under the watchful eye of the coaches at Ben Wadding Park, he had numerous trials in England and was over at Man U a handful of times before signing for their neighbours at 17. While it didn’t work out in the end, he found Kevin Keegan great to work with and credits then City goalkeeping coaches Alex Stepney and Peter Bonetti with helping his early progress.
At least that’s one man with an Italian surname who’s taken an interest.