The plaudits on the night went to James McClean. The Ireland player received the cross from Jeff Hendrick on 57 minutes after a nightmarish spell of play from Wales and wasted no time in firing his team into a World Cup playoff place at the expense of their rivals from across the Irish Sea. Wales had been riding high off the fumes of a heady European Championships just over a year ago, but must now deal with the hangover and the prospect of a very quiet summer in 2018.
McClean deserved the accolades, but his goal would have meant nothing without a brace from another player several days before against Moldova. The three vital points on that night were secured by the erstwhile Daryl Murphy, a striker who is thoroughly enjoying what in all likelihood are the twilight years of his career.
The 34 year old has managed to pick up thirty caps in a decade-long international career largely overshadowed by one of Ireland’s all time greatest strikers, Robbie Keane. The bulk of these appearances came from the subs bench, but, with striking options limited for the Irish, Murphy could be looking forward to a regular starting position.
‘A solid, if unfashionable, striker’
While his international contributions up to now have been low key (the forward had never scored in the Emerald jersey until 2016), Murphy has proved to be a reliable centre forward at Championship level. Without his formidable partnership with fellow Irish international David McGoldrick, Ipswich could not have mounted a charge to the Championship playoffs in 2015. Glory and silverware eventually eluded the side, but Murphy bagged 61 goals during his more fruitful second spell at the club—including 27 in the league during that ill-fated playoff campaign—cementing his reputation as a solid, if unfashionable, striker.
After winning promotion with Newcastle United in the 2016/17 season, it soon became clear that Murphy was not going to get a second bite at the Premier League cherry. His previous dalliance with England’s top division came with Newcastle’s arch rivals Sunderland, during the torrid 2005-06 season in which the Black Cats managed only 15 league points, with Murphy scoring a single goal.
As Newcastle returned to the big time, Murphy continued his Championship odyssey, signing with Nottingham Forest for a fee rumored to be over £2million ($2.64million). Eyebrows were raised when Murphy was announced at the City Ground. The striker was 34 years old after all and had not particularly impressed at Newcastle. However, the Irishman took to life in Nottingham like the proverbial duck to the proverbial duck pond.
It took only two competitive games for Murphy to get off the mark, scoring in a frantic 4-3 win at Brentford. Since then, he has found the net five more times in the league for the Reds, bring his ratio up to a respectable six in 11. Forest’s number 9 is showing no sign of hanging up his boots just yet.
Daryl Murphy fighting on, on two fronts
So what is spurring Murphy on as he hits the pinnacle of his career so late in the day? Other than a two or three year purple patch at Ipswich, Daryl Murphy has struggled to make the grade for most of his 17 years as a senior. So why now? What changed?
Perhaps it is the environment surrounding Murphy today. He weathered his twenties in an often turbulent division without picking up any major injuries, and is finding that his sharpness and keen ability to read a game have not yet left him, even in his 35th year.
After playing a marginal role in Newcastle’s promotion campaign last season, he finds himself at a club ready to use his talents to the full. Under Nottingham Forest’s new ownership, there is a sense of burgeoning positivity on the banks of the River Trent, and Murphy is at the heart of that, more often than not leading the line.
In Martin O’Neill, Daryl Murphy has found an international manager who has shown faith in him when other coaches haven’t. Ireland’s road to the World Cup qualification playoffs has been a rocky one at times, but O’Neill’s backing of Murphy proved to be a masterstroke in those last few rounds of fixtures as they pipped Wales to the post.
A long way from the finished article, Nottingham Forest are continuing on their learning curve under the new regime. Ireland, meanwhile, have only one foot in the World Cup, and will be hoping to avoid the likes of Italy in next month’s playoff draw.
Whichever way results go, Daryl Murphy is arguably in the form of his life for club and for country, and is enjoying what could be a glorious swan song in a respectable career.