A recent encounter for ex-Ireland goalkeeper Joe Murphy with his former international team-mate Jon Walters led to the offer of some advice – keep playing football for as long as you can.
Walters didn’t have that choice as he was forced to retire at the age of 34 due to injury. Dubliner Murphy, who turns 39 next month, hopes to extend his career into next season for what would be a pretty impressive 22nd campaign as a first team player in England, but that’s out of his hands.
League One side Shrewsbury Town, his most recent club, informed Murphy last month that he was not being offered a new contract so the veteran keeper, capped twice at senior level, is out of work.
He is keeping busy with some coaching work locally, hopeful of earning another contract as a player but also aware that gainful employment at a time of pandemic-related uncertainty won’t be easy.
“I want to carry on for as long as I can,” he says. “Some keepers play into their forties, people like Brad Friedel did it and I feel I have a few more seasons left in me.
“Jon Walters lives near me, I see him a fair bit and last time I saw him he just said, ‘Play on for as long as you can as you’ll be retired long enough and there is no better feeling than going into training every day’.
“I feel great. Two seasons ago I played in every game for a Bury team which got promoted. I know I’m not getting any younger, 39 next birthday, and age could count against me. My agent has my name out there and hopefully I can get something sorted for next season. A couple of clubs said ‘we’ll keep you in mind’ but there was nothing concrete on offer as no one is making decisions on signing new players yet.
“I’d like to think there are clubs out there who will need a senior keeper who might be a cheaper option as well as I’m now at a different stage of my career.
“I don’t see anything happening in terms of contracts being offered for a while, not until the fixtures for next season come out and clubs know where they stand.”
The landscape for players this summer is bleaker than ever due to the impact of Covid-19, with clubs unsure if and when they can play in front of punters again.
“It’s going to be very hard, particularly for young players in the short term, because of the financial uncertainty. Unless you are a super talent at one of the top Premier League clubs, it’s going to be hard. There will be a salary cap in the lower leagues. I know first-hand how things can turn out with what happened at Bury, you look at Wigan last week,” says Murphy.
“Whether you are 19 or 39, this summer will be tough for footballers to get clubs, as they are all cutting their cloth. They don’t know when fans will be allowed back into stadiums again and that’s a huge problem for English football.
“I predict there will be a lot of clubs in trouble going forward. At Shrewsbury we were put into furlough fairly early but I know players at other clubs who had problems.
“We don’t know how soon fans will be allowed in but the clubs in the lower leagues need those 3,000 fans coming through the gates to pay the wages.
“Maybe some money will be fed down from the Premier League. That would be ideal but I don’t know if that’ll happen. I think the Championship will be really affected by this, clubs there are used to having 25,000 people at home games and that’s a big drop in revenue.”
Murphy had the most productive season of his career two seasons ago, playing 52 times in the campaign as Bury won promotion, and from there he moved to Shrewsbury. But opportunities were limited as the Irish-eligible Max O’Leary, on loan from Bristol City, was first choice and Murphy was mainly used in cup ties. It was no surprise when he was released.
“Max came in and did really well and it’s a good sign for Ireland as he’s a very promising keeper,” says Murphy.
“I got a few games over the season but the manager was honest with me. He said they couldn’t afford two senior keepers for next season so I had to move on and that was fine.
“I have felt great over the last five or six seasons. When I was at Huddersfield I had a couple of major injuries and didn’t play much. I had a shoulder reconstruction and I broke my foot, I did my knee .
“But I went on to have a great year with Bury only two seasons ago so I hope to have more football in me,” he added.