Wednesday, 8 May 2013

15 Love: Captain Murphy calls time on fabulous career

Geordan Murphy Tigers' talisman captain yesterday confirmed he is to retire from playing and move onto the club's coaching staff.  The announcement brings down the curtain on a fabulous career which saw Murphy represent Leicester, Ireland and the Lions. 

His 322 appearances for his only adult club put him 2nd in Tigers all-time list for most appearances by a full back behind Dusty Hare on 392, in February 2012 he became only the 35th man in the club's history to play 300 games.  Given that we often hear how the professional game is shortening careers this landmark is a testament to not only Murphy's talents to earn selection that many times but also his durability to average over 20 games a season for 16 years.

Murphy's record of 11 Major Trophies makes him the most decorated player at the most decorated club in English rugby.

Murphy came to Tigers on trial in the summer of 1997 after Leinster declined to offer him a professional deal as he was "too slow" but Murphy quickly settled in to life at Leicester making a name for himself in the Extra Firsts XV scoring 50 points in 5 matches.  A hat trick away to Burton-on-Trent on the 8th of November propelled Murphy into the First XV for his debut 6 days later at home to Rotherham in the now long forgotten Cheltenham & Gloucester Cup. 

In the programme before that match Tigers coach Duncan Hall described Murphy as "a raw but exciting talent and we are looking for him to blossom in first team company"; worth noting that the other players making their debuts that night were the South African pair Fritz Van Heerdan, another Tigers legend though with a significantly shorter spell, and Jake Boer better known to captaining Gloucester to top spot in the Premiership only to lose to Wasps in the first play off final.  

Murphy really shot to prominence after a fabulous 45meter drop goal in the Tetley's Bitter Cup away to local rivals Coventry.  The match was tight and Tigers were leading 13-8.  The story that has gone down in Tigers folklore is that as the willowy Irish lined up for the kick Bob Dwyer could be heard screaming "What the fuck is he do.... he's got it!"  Murphy's first 5 league games were Dwyer's last.

Murphy was a key part of Deano's all conquering Tigers side, switching between wing and full back with Tim Stimpson.  I don't think it is over stating it to say they re-invented back three play during that period, both of them had the skill and kicking games of classical full backs with the pace of a winger.  

14 appearances in the 1999 title winning side earned Murphy his first medal at the club, which was swiftly added to with further league wins in 2000, 2001 and 2002.  A starter in both victorious Heineken Cup finals, 34-30 against Stade Francais in Paris and 15-9 against Munster in Cardiff, Murphy also added European glory to his English titles.  

This domestic form was enough to convince Ireland supremo Warren Gatland (yes he's been around that long too) to hand Murphy his test debut in the summer of 2000 against the USA.  Murphy scored a brace of tries as the Irish won 83-3.  That wasn't enough though to retain his place for the next weekend's match against Canada though as he had to make do with a replacement appearance as Ireland only managed a draw, Tigers summer signing Winston Stanley was the Canadian full back that day.  His home debut came that November against Japan with Murphy bagging another try.

Murphy had a glittering 2002/2003 season for both Tigers and Ireland until disaster struck and he broke his leg in a pre-World Cup friendly against Scotland at Murrayfield.  The 2003/4 season is the only one where Murphy made fewer than 10 appearances for the Tigers.

But restored to full fitness Murphy was once again Tigers ever present last line of defence as they put two mixed seasons behind them and John Wells inspired the side to top of league and a Heineken Cup semi final.  That season will for ever livelong in the memory because of the Heineken Cup Quarter Final away to Leinster, Murphy's home province.  Still our only away victory in the Heineken Cup quarterfinals Murphy played wing that day as Tigers romped home in convincing style.

The summer of 2005 saw Murphy become the first Tigers player for almost a 100 years to start a test match for the Lions at full back, only the second ever after Cornishman John Jackett on the 1908 tour, when he played with 6 other Tigers in the draw against Argentina in Cardiff.  Murphy added another cap on tour against New Zealand in the final test at Eden Park, a 38-19 loss.

2007 saw Murphy win his first domestic cup as Tigers ended their 5 year trophy drought with the newly formed EDF Anglo-Welsh Cup triumph at Twickenham.  Tigers also finally won another league title through the new play off system after two final heart breaks but they failed to make it a unique treble when they lost the Heineken Cup Final to Wasps in the most gutting final I've ever attended.

Murphy made the Ireland World Cup squad in both 2007 and as a late injury call up in 201, making amends for his cruel injury in 2003.  The World Cup was not particularly kind to Murphy as his only real time on the field in 2007 was the last game against Argentina where his try couldn't stop the South Americans defeating the Irish on the way to a 3rd place finish, that was also his final international try.  In 2011 Murphy made his final start for Ireland in the emotional match against the USA ten years to the day from the September 11th bombings, his final cap came two weeks later as a 49th minute replacement for Keith Earls against Russia.

Internationally there can be no doubt that Murphy's highlight was his part in Ireland's first grandslam since 1948; in the final game against Wales it was Murphy who put boot to ball after Stephen Jones's penalty missed to signal the end of the game.

April 2009 saw Murphy appointed Tigers captain in the absence of Martin Corry and Aaron Mauger for the visit of Sale to Welford Road, Murphy's debut captaincy perhaps overshadowed by the red card for Julian White, the stunning 5 try win against all odds and it being the final game before the demolition of the old Members Stand. 

The Murphy inspired Tigers went on to claim his 6th Premiership title with a 10-9 win against London Irish at Twickenham but couldn't add another European crown, with Tigers coming up just short 16-19.  Murphy had suffered an eye injury in the Twickenham win and it was a significant blow when he left the field at Murrayfield, his bete noir of stadia.

In 2009/10 a dislocated shoulder away to Bath in September meant Murphy missed the Heineken Cup group stages as Tigers crashed out but he returned to lead Tigers in the most dramatic Premiership final victory.  Dan Hipkiss scored with only 2 minutes remaining to give Tigers the victory and Murphy his 7th title.  That 7th title is a record for a number of successful campaigns beating the record of 6 held by Bath's Jeremy Guscott and Andy Robinson.

Murphy's most recent cup success came in the 2012 LV Cup where he lead the Tigers to a 26-14 victory over bitter local rivals Northampton at Worcester's Sixways.   That brought his tally up 11 major cup wins in 16 seasons. 

Never better than when the play broke up Murphy has so far scored 93 tries for the club which along with his goal kicking from his earlier days yielded 691 points.

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