Big interview: Ipswich Town goal-machine Daryl Murphy on the secrets behind his Indian summer
- Credit: sarah lucy brown
Ipswich Town striker Daryl Murphy has enjoyed the season of his life. Stuart Watson spoke exclusively to the Championship’s 27-goal top-scorer.
Daryl Murphy walks through the door, quickly settles down in the chair and engages me with a knowing smile.
The Irishman has done more than his fair share of interviews this season and, while he’s well aware it’s a sign of success, you sense that he would rather still be out on the training pitch.
“It’s been a mad season,” he says, with a glint in his eye.
With 27 league goals behind him and a two-legged play-off semi-final against Norwich City still to come that’s something of an understatement.
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Prior to signing for the club permanently in 2013 his best goal tally for a season was 10. No-one, not even himself, had predicted the Indian summer that was to come.
“I have to be honest, I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d have told me we’d be having this conversation,” said the 32-year-old.
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“We all had to say what our goal target was at the start of the season and mine was 17. I thought that if I got anywhere near that then I’d have had a decent season.
“I had that by January, December actually, so, yeah, as I say, it’s just been a mad season really.”
An unassuming, modest character, Murphy’s personality and physique, while obviously impressive, would surprise those that have only seen his superhero strength and battling qualities from the stands.
He is though, like all footballers, just a normal guy. And it’s normal things that have been the secret to his sublime season.
“It’s all those things outside of football that people don’t see and appreciate,” he explains. “Supporters think you get paid well and it’s an easy life. It’s not like that.
“There are things outside of football that need to be right for you to be enjoying it. I think that’s the same with any job.
“I think, for me, my improvements started when I signed that contract and knew I was an Ipswich Town player permanently.
“During the loan spells down here (three of them) I knew I was going to have keep going back to Glasgow when the season finished. It was horrible because I knew I wasn’t going to play at Celtic.
“My kids, now aged seven and 10, were moving schools all the time. To be fair they were brilliant and so was my wife. They just got on with it.
“When we came down to Ipswich they all started to tell me that they loved it here and didn’t want to go back. They wanted to start settling down and the pressure was on.
“The nearer I got to the end of that Celtic contract, the more I wanted to make sure that Ipswich wanted to sign me. I really got my head down and tried to show the gaffer that I deserved a contract here.
“Thank God it happened.”
He continued: “I’m 10 minutes away from the training ground, 15 from the school. It’s ideal.
“I remember signing for Sunderland and talking to Tommy Miller and Kelvin Davis when they arrived. They were saying that they absolutely loved it at Ipswich and how brilliant it was for your family.
“They talked so highly of it and when I came down on loan for the first time thought ‘I know what they were talking about now’.
“I can’t describe it. Being here just feels right; especially for me because Waterford (the south eastern Irish city, population 47,000, that Murphy grew up in) is sort of similar to Ipswich. It’s small, you have everything you need and there are no distractions.
“Ipswich is a massive club, but it’s not the goldfish bowl that Celtic and Sunderland are; especially Celtic.
“Up there you get hounded in the streets, if not from the Celtic fans then from the Rangers fans. Sometimes it’s not nice, especially when you’re out and about with your family and just trying to have some food. It can be a bit annoying. You can imagine what people were saying if they are Rangers fans. I didn’t like that side of it. Especially when my kids were around.
“Here you don’t get any of that. Everyone has been lovely and wishing me well. You very rarely get anyone who has got a bad word to say.”
He added: “The first thing I noticed here was the weather. My God it made me realise I’ve had it bad before. At Sunderland and Celtic it seemed like it was raining and freezing cold every single day. The difference in the weather here is mad.”
There’s that word again – mad. Murphy still can’t quite seem to believe just how good a season he has had.
It’s not rocket science though. A happy home makes for a happy worker.
Just one of Daryl Murphy’s goals has come from the penalty spot and that was the last, his consolation against Blackburn in the 3-2 defeat at Ewood Park.
There has been a real variety in the previous 26. Sixteen of them came from his favoured left foot, seven were headers and three from his right peg.
Just two came from outside the box, while seven were inside the six-yard box. Some were self-made, others after good link-up play. There have been neat volleys, thumping strikes, a deft chip and poacher’s finishes.
“I’ve surprised myself, to be honest, with the type of goals I’ve scored,” he says. “I’ll take tap-ins though, just as much as I take shots outside the box.
“I liked the one against Forest (away), the one where I’ve cut in from the right. It was just the fact that I had a lot to do to score. There were a lot of defenders in the way and I’ve had to twist and turn before getting my shot away.
“A lot of people mention the Cardiff one (away). It’s just a good strike, but there was a lot more involved in that Forest one.”
That goal may be his favourite, but is there a specific moment where he felt everything start to click?
“The game that sticks in my mind was probably the Brighton game at home,” he says. “There was only a few minutes left, the ball got played down the left channel and I’ve thought ‘just hit it’ because it bounced up nice for me.
“It went in and after that I was thinking ‘if I can score from that sort of angle then I need to shoot a bit more’. I probably kicked on from there.
“TC (coach Terry Connor) has been banging on to me for a long time ‘just shoot’ actually. We look at stats and the players who have had the most shots more or less end up as the top scorers in the league.
“That’s given me the confidence to shoot from a lot more positions where I wouldn’t normally have shot from in the past.”
There have been six braces and not a single hat-trick. The longest he went without a goal was five games. Murphy finished the campaign with four goals in four games.
“My real hot streak was around Christmas and I just thought ‘I’m going to score’ every time I stepped on the pitch.
“It wasn’t a case of ‘if I get a chance I might score’, I was stepping on the pitch just knowing I was going to score. That’s the confidence I had at the time.
“I wasn’t going to have that all season and, inevitably, that dry patch came along. I knew it would happen at some stage so I just I kept working on my game and getting into positions. I never worried because I did have chances during that spell.
“If you start thinking too much about it then it’s not going to come. You start snatching at chances and trying to force things and that’s never good.
“I’ve got through that dry patch, but I’ve come back again and scored a few more.”
Does that mean he’s back to believing he’ll score every time he steps on the pitch?
“I’ve felt like that all season. It’s just when I was in that purple patch I knew I was going to score. It’s mad, you can’t describe it. You’re on such a high that you just feel you’re going to score every time you step on the pitch.”
Ipswich Town’s hesitancy saw them miss out on the signature of Daryl Murphy once, but in the end the gravitational pull of Suffolk proved too strong.
Having grown up in the small south eastern Irish city of Waterford (population 47,000), the striker’s first foray into English football ended up with him returning from Luton as a homesick teenager.
“It was horrible,” he recalls with a grimace. “The other lads were living a long way from me and it was literally back to the digs after training every day to spend time with the family that was hosting me. I was 17, there was nothing to do and I really didn’t want to be there.
“Going back to Waterford was the best thing that ever happened to me. It allowed me to enjoy football again.”
Three years later he tried again. First up was a trial with Joe Royle’s promotion-chasing Blues.
“I did well that week, but I was always going to Sunderland for a trial the week after,” he explains. “I was just going with the flow and seeing what happened.
“At the time both teams were going well and it was looking like one of them would go up.
“Ipswich said they wanted to offer me something, but they had to wait and see what division they were going to be in the following season first.
“Sunderland offered me a contract straight away and I couldn’t really turn it down.”
Sunderland did end up pipping Ipswich to promotion that season under the management of a certain Mick McCarthy.
Murphy scored once in 24 appearances in the Premier League as the Black Cats were relegated. He scored 10 times in the second-tier the following season as Mick’s men won the title.
There were no goals for him in the Premier League the following season and, in 2009/10, his association with Ipswich started.
At the end of that loan spell he made a dream switch to Scottish giants Celtic. Very quickly it turned sour as it became apparent he was well down the pecking order.
For two successive seasons he was loaned to Ipswich and when his three-year deal at Celtic finally expired he finally became a Town player on a permanent basis.
Reunited with McCarthy in Suffolk, almost 10 years on from that initial trial at Playford Road, it almost felt like fate.
Being settled in Suffolk has been the cornerstone to his success, but there are two more key ingredients to Daryl Murphy finding his shooting boots this season.
Firstly, don’t underestimate the power of the number nine shirt that he inherited from Jay Emmanuel-Thomas in the summer of 2013.
“Growing up I was always number nine, but then I came here and was a left winger!” he says, referring to a loan spell under Paul Jewell’s management.
“The number nine was available when the gaffer (Mick McCarthy) took over and I asked him ‘can I have it?’
“I wanted it. It was free and I thought if I don’t ask for it then somebody else might get it. Thankfully he said ‘yes, because you deserve it’.
“That gave me a real belief in my ability. I knew I had a responsibility to score goals with the number nine on my back and just really wanted to do that shirt justice.”
Then there’s the extra work he did in the gym prior to returning to pre-season training last summer.
“I finished last season quite well and I thought, I’ll have my break, relax, but then I’ll go back a bit earlier just to get on top of my fitness and push myself a bit more.
“Obviously it worked because when I came back I felt brilliant in pre-season and kicked on from there.
“I’m 32 now but I feel brilliant. I’ve always been lucky that I’m naturally fit. I know my body inside out and I know what I can and can’t do.
“I do quite a bit in the gym but not as much as people make out. It must be something to do with coming from Ireland; all the potatoes we eat and all that!
“I’ve always been quite physical because I played hurling and gaelic football in Ireland. The physical side of the game has never been a problem for me, I’ve always enjoyed that.”
Last, and by no means least, has been the innovative shooting sessions laid on by coach Terry Connor.
“I’ve said it before; I can’t praise him enough,” said Murphy. “He makes the sessions so enjoyable that you just want to do it all the time.
“A lot of thought goes into it. Everything is game related. I’ve been at clubs where you do shooting practise and it’s just a case of kick up to the coach, he kicks it back and you shoot. That’s not realistic. You can never just waltz into the box and shoot under no pressure.
“He puts mannequins in the box where defenders would be in certain situations. You have to pass and move, you have to drop the shoulder, you have to shoot from different angles and think about your body shape.
“Some of the goals I’ve scored have been as a direct result of that work on the training field. The one that springs to mind for me is the one at Fulham. The defender stood off me, gave me too much space and I used him as a shield to bend the ball around.”