Will a summer Euro 2016 appearance help Daryl Murphy get his Ipswich Town mojo back?
- Credit: PA
It doesn’t take long for thoughts to return from country to club.
On Wednesday, June 22 the final European Championship group stage matches will be played.
The Football League fixtures for the 2016/17 season will be also be announced that day.
Ipswich Town’s players will report back for pre-season training at the end of the month ahead of the club’s 15th successive season in the Championship and quickly embark on a series of friendly matches ahead of the big kick-off on August 6.
The summer ‘break’ is short at the best of times. Even more so in the year of a major international tournament.
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So the fact that the Blues have just one player taking part in the French extravaganza may just be a blessing in disguise.
Daryl Murphy has made the cut for the Republic of Ireland’s 23-man squad, but club-mate David McGoldrick was one of six players from the original long list that were informed by manager Martin O’Neill that they wouldn’t be on the plane following the final warm-up match.
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And despite the format of the competition having been expanded to a bigger-than-ever line-up of 24 teams, both Denmark and Scotland failed to qualify meaning Blues defenders Jonas Knudsen and Christophe Berra will be watching from home.
Then there’s Town keeper Bartosz Bialkowski who, despite scooping every end-of-season club award following a sensational second-half of the campaign, was not selected for the Poland squad. To be fair, he has Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City), Wojciech Szczesny (AS Roma) and Artur Boruc (Bournemouth) ahead of him in the pecking order.
McCarthy, a former Ireland player and manager himself, was desperate to see both Murphy and McGoldrick involved in the summer showpiece. He has spoken many times before about how playing on the big stage made him feel 10 feet tall and vastly increased his confidence as a club player.
We’ve seen evidence of that in Suffolk recently when centre-back Tommy Smith became a more confident player after his involvement at the 2010 World Cup with New Zealand, the Kiwis exiting the competition at the group stages but earning credible draws against Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia.
Murphy, aged 33, will hopefully benefit from such a mental boost. This summer represented his last chance at playing in such a tournament, so to miss out would have been a bitter blow that would have been hard to quickly shake off.
His participation will also provide a golden opportunity to rediscover his mojo following a largely frustrating follow-up campaign to his sensational 2014/15 season.
When Town finished in the play-offs he scored an incredible 27 goals, but this time around he had to be content with finding the net just 10 times.
On occasions it has appeared as though the Waterford-born front man looked jaded. A few niggly injuries, including an end-of-season calf problem, back that up.
That’s wholly understandable too. He played 53 games for club and country when everything he hit turned to goals. Straight off the back of the play-off defeat to Norwich he linked up with Ireland to play in friendlies.
In the summer of 2014, you sensed that a fully rested Murphy was ready to hit the ground running and do something special. In the summer of 2015, it appeared as though the veteran front man was always playing catch-up.
The worry, therefore, is that another packed summer could leave the ageing striker completely burnt out ahead of another second-tier campaign of relentless Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday action.
Murphy’s disrupted summer of 2015 saw his form dip. The same could be said of Berra too, the Scot’s imperious displays of 2014/15 becoming more of a rarity than the norm.
For all the talk about style of play and spending, don’t underestimate how much of an impact the dip in form of key players had. Town’s two most experienced men were not at the very top of their games as Town faded badly during the second-half of the season to finish in seventh.
Berra, at the age of 31, will now get a chance to recharge the batteries and go again for the Blues after starting 128 games in the last three seasons.
Knudsen may only be 23, but he will undoubtedly appreciate some time to rest the body and mind following his first season in English football. The left-back admits he found the physical, all-action style of play a culture shock at first, but improved as the campaign went on and will be hoping to show he can be as big a success at Portman Road as his predecessors Aaron Cresswell and Tyrone Mings.
How the disappointment of just missing out on selection affects McGoldrick remains to be seen.
Since his talismanic form of 2013/14, the 28-year-old has endured two years of injury frustration. He returned to action for the dying embers of the campaign just gone though and showed a tantalising glimpse of his form of old.
The silky forward started the last four matches, scored twice and showed that his clever movement, close control and trademark bodyswerve are all still there.
Ireland boss O’Neill has a squad with a lot more graft than guile (sound familiar Town fans?) and McGoldrick could have added a little sprinkling of star-dust. He was arguable a better option than Murphy given he is fresh and firing again while his club-mate, as mentioned, appears to have hit a bit of a wall in recent months.
McGoldrick, however, will have always thought that making the Euros was a long shot though. Just a few months ago his sole focus was getting back on a football pitch full stop.
A clear summer may well just do him a world of good. Getting him and Teddy Bishop 100% right for the new season will be vital because Town have certainly missed their creative talents.
With Ipswich’s regional rivals Norwich, as well as Newcastle and Aston Villa, having been relegated from the Premier League the task of bridging the gap from play-off fringes to genuine promotion contenders will not get any easier for Mick McCarthy – especially as it looks like his budget will remain restricted.
But get Murphy’s mojo back, get a few key men fully firing again after a proper break and introduce some of the exciting young talent that is emerging from the academy and there is still much for Town fans to be positive about.