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Saturday 10 December 2016

Veteran Daryl: I'm not fazed by French

Murphy relishing Euro last 16 clash with hosts in Lyon den

Daryl Murphy clashes with Italy's Thiago Motta. Photo: Sportsfile
Daryl Murphy clashes with Italy's Thiago Motta. Photo: Sportsfile

Just as Robbie Keane and Shay Given were heading off to the World Cup finals in 2002, Daryl Murphy was heading in a completely different direction.

Released by Luton Town that summer, Murphy headed home, his head hanging low, wondering if he would ever have a football career of any kind, never mind a top-level one.

Yet here we are, 14 years on, and Murphy was last night heading to Lyon with Keane, Given and the rest of his Ireland team-mates to take on the best of the rest in Europe tomorrow. That 19-year-old Daryl Murphy never dreamed that his 33-year-old self would be preparing to do battle with the Euro 2016 hosts and favourites.

"I think at that stage I just wanted to get home and be with my family and friends, play football at home and enjoy it again, that's all I was looking for after being away and homesick for so long," says Murphy, who revived his career with Waterford United.

Even his international career was bedevilled with frustration: a six-year wait between his ninth and 10 caps, and it was only a year ago that he got his first competitive start. "It just goes to show that you never really give up, do you?" he asks of his Ireland career.

"I nearly did at one stage, when I had been overlooked for so long, I think I just kept going back to working hard at club level and trying to do as well as I could there. And with new management coming in, they just gave me a chance, really."

chest

And now he's on the verge of something great. The return of Jon Walters from injury means that Murphy's not guaranteed to start tomorrow.

"Hopefully I am in with a chance, anything can happen when the manager names the team," he says. "I don't think the manager will change that [naming his team very close to kick-off], I think he likes to keep cards close to his chest and let the lads wait."

But in reality, this squad - in fact this nation - cannot wait for tomorrow. A player from England's second tier yet to score his first international goal, Murphy is in no way fazed by the challenge.

"This is what it's all about, this is what you play international football for, to play in games like this, at this stage against teams of this calibre. You couldn't wish for any more," added the Waterford man.

"Of course we can take them, we have to believe we can. You take the game the other day, for instance, probably not many people thought we'd beat Italy but we believed we would and we have done that. It's a different story now, France, the home nation, and it's going to be very hard but we believe we can beat them."

Murphy had been capped at senior level (nine times) when France knocked Ireland out of the 2010 World Cup qualifying via Thierry Henry's handball, but the then-Sunderland player wasn't in the Irish squad at the time and would not be capped again until 2014.

So he's not scarred by that night in Paris and in fact it's another injustice which upsets him, Waterford United's controversial defeat to Longford Town in the 2004 FAI Cup final.

It's a strange topic to raise given the time lapse since it happened and also given the stage Murphy is on, a chat with the Irish media before Ireland's first game in the knockout stages of the European Championships, but Murphy brought it up. "That still hurts, definitely," he says. "It was ridiculous what happened, two balls on the pitch, our player is kicking one of the balls out of play and they go and score in the last minute of the game, our heads are gone, they go and score another and it's game over. It still upsets me to think about it."

Which, in a roundabout way, brings us back to Henry's handball. Would Murphy do the same if needed? "If I had to do it I would, 100pc, if my country was going through."

CRAZY

Feedback from home has informed Murphy that the country, and indeed his county, is going crazy, with hopeful local kids knocking on the door of the Murphy house on Suirside looking for jerseys.

"They're always looking for jerseys, that doesn't change," he jokes. "After the game, literally most people I have in my phone book I had text messages from, and it's gone up a notch because of what we've done.

"It's brilliant because it's given everyone a boost and every single person in Ireland is on a high, and rightly so, because we have waited a long time to get in this position and we just want to keep it going."

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