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'It was getting harder and harder... They pretty much refused to pay us most of the time'

Cork City are looking to end a memorable season on a high in the FAI Cup final this weekend. Dan Murray, one of the club’s most highly regarded ex-players, has been present for the good times and the bad.

Updated at 22.17

Dan Murray Dan Murray made over 300 apperances during a memorable career with Cork City. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

1. Where it all began

WHEN CONTACTED BY The42, Dan Murray agrees to be the latest player to feature in our latest League of Ireland series, but modestly adds: “I’m not sure I’m a legend though.”

Plenty of Cork fans would beg to differ. Murray made over 300 appearances in two spells with the club, and before the current side were crowned champions at home to Derry last month, he was the last captain of the Leesiders to lift the Premier Division trophy, as they finished two points ahead of the Candystripes to claim the trophy back in 2005.

It was the stuff of dreams after years of hard graft for Murray, who was a typical football-obsessed kid growing up in Cambridge.

“That’s all I did really, football, from a very young age,” he tells The42. “Obviously, in England, it’s a bit different with the academies, even then. (The players are) probably not as young as they are now.

“I was actually at Cambridge United from U10s up to U15s before I went to Peterborough. So I was doing football three times a week every week — it was the main part of my life when I was growing up.”

Murray is in a better position than most to compare young players now and then. Having come through the ranks himself at underage level in English football, he is now coaching Cork City’s U15s along with another club legend and former team-mate, Billy Woods.

The academy system has probably made it a lot easier (in England). There are not many jobs (young footballers) have to do, and when I went to Peterborough, I think we were on £42.50 a week.

“They’re definitely on a good bit more now — young lads are signing four or five-year contracts from the age of 16 and there’s probably double the amount of players.

“The money in the game is at a completely different scale (compared to where it was). Everything’s different. How people are treated has obviously got better over the years. I think even training was a lot harder than it is now. How people were able to talk to you, it would have been a lot tougher (language) than it is now. The stuff that happened in youth teams to players then would never happen now.

“But I would never change any of it for what it was — I loved every minute of it. Going into full-time football was a dream come true. You’d have done anything to stay in it at that age really.”

2.  Bad education

In recent times, there has been plenty of controversy in relation to the treatment of younger players by senior pros. Worrying details of hazing and other serious forms of abuse have emerged years after the event, in some cases involving high-profile stars, such as David Beckham.

Soccer - Carling Premier League - Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur Young players including David Beckham were routinely bullied during their early days at Man United. Source: EMPICS Sport

What was seen as part and parcel of ‘learning your trade’ in footballing circles back then seems, in some cases, shocking to those looking in from the outside now. Did Murray ever experience such bullying when coming through the ranks as a teenager at Cambridge and later Peterborough?

“Not really,” he says. “It’s only coming out now since the Man United lads have talked about their experiences. We had the initiation — you might have to sing a song or tell a joke or something like that. I think it was character-building.

“I never felt like I was being bullied or anything like that. It was part and parcel of it and made the relationship between the first team and the lads in the youth team a lot closer. You could go up and talk to them — I don’t think that’d be the case now.

“There’s such a big gap between the academy and the first team now, it’s one thing that’s probably gone from the game from when I was there — that relationship. You were always close to where the first team were training. You knew all the first-team players, they knew who you were. You could develop a relationship through it.

Everything’s changed, the money’s changed, the players have changed… It’s probably turned into what school is like for some people. You have to treat everyone with the same brush really.”

As is often the case with footballers, Murray feels his education suffered to a degree as a result of prioritising sport.

“In England, it’s a bit different from Ireland. I finished my GCSEs, I got decent marks and could have gone to college — it was just a case of being a footballer at 16 or going to college.

“I obviously decided to go the football route. In hindsight, you look back, we (received some education) in YTS (Youth Training Scheme). But, thinking you’re going to be a footballer, you probably don’t take it as seriously as you should.

“Looking back, I probably would have done it differently and taken it more seriously than I did.

“Even with young lads, I’d recommend trying to get your Leaving Cert. You can always come back to it then and at least you’ve got a solid base. A lot of kids, especially from Ireland, leave a bit too early (for professional football in England) and come back with no qualifications. I was lucky, I had the GCSEs behind me. Over here, if you have the Leaving Cert behind you, at least then, you can give it a good go.

“If it doesn’t happen, you’ve got something to come back on and there are so many older people they’re re-training these days, it’s not like you’re going to be left behind if you haven’t been in school your whole life.”

3. Peterborough calling

As far as the football itself was concerned, Murray spent “five or six years” in Cambridge’s youth system. In 1999, he made the switch to Peterborough, with the young defender following one of his coaches there.

“I thought it was the best way for me to progress,” he explains. “I probably didn’t think like that when I was that young, but looking back, it was probably the right choice. The coaching and the experience (Peterborough) gave me was brilliant.

“I just looked at the two clubs’ youth systems and with the coach leaving to go to Peterborough, it was where I wanted to be. I felt Peterborough was the club going places.

“It was a premier academy for a few years, while Cambridge United wasn’t, so the step up was justified really.

“At that age, 14 or 15, it was a case of where do you think you can enjoy your football the most. When it came down to it, Peterborough felt better for me to be playing football.”

John O'Flynn Former Peterborough team-mate John O'Flynn played an integral role in Murray joining Cork City. Source: INPHO

An injury to two of the club’s main centre-backs meant Murray was thrown in the deep end and handed a senior debut with the club at 17 years of age away to Macclesfield in Division 3, a game which took place on 18 March 2000. The fixture ended 1-1 ultimately, with the inexperienced youngster acquitting himself well under pressurised circumstances.

“When I went into the game that day, I felt a bit nervous about it, but I got more nervous when I was a first-team player the next few years, because I wasn’t a regular starter, so you’d know people would be looking at you more than normal.

When I was a 17-year-old making my debut, everyone was like ‘just go out and enjoy it’. I didn’t feel too much pressure, whereas when I was 18, 19 or 20, there was more pressure on because you’re expected to play well and you’re judged on that.”

Murray would appear just one more time — a 3-1 home win over Exeter — in the 1999-2000 season, which culminated in Peterborough gaining promotion via the play-offs.

Opportunities would remain scarce the following campaign. He would make just five appearances for the Division 2 club, his last being a 5-0 hammering away to Port Vale on 10 March 2001. He didn’t know it at the time, but he would never play for the club again.

4. The beginning of a beautiful relationship

He moved to Cork — on loan initially — following former Peterborough team-mate John O’Flynn there.

“They had a few injuries in the centre-half position and the manager at the time was asking John were there any players at Peterborough that you think might want to come over on loan,” Murray remembers.

“That was the last winter league so it was a pretty short league. It was on from July to January. I came over in October, so it was a short year.

“I came over just to play matches more than anything, because I wasn’t a regular at Peterborough, I wasn’t getting many games, so it was just a case of me saying: ‘I’m going to come over and play as many games as I possibly can and see where it takes me.’

“I was thinking, I can go back to Peterborough after being on loan and I’ll probably get playing in the first team again. But after the loan move, going back to Peterborough, that wasn’t the case. And after discussions, the manager at the time of Peterborough was like: ‘Nothing’s really changed from when you left five or six months before.’ After playing every week, it was like ‘I want a bit more of this’.

“Liam Murphy was the manager at the time. He offered me a two-year contract to come to Cork City and it wasn’t really a tough decision.

“Back then, I was a young lad with no ties, so it wasn’t like anything was keeping me in England.”

Dan Murray Murray pictured playing for Cork in 2003. Source: INPHO

5. Going pro

Murray adapted to life in the League of Ireland fairly seamlessly and quickly established himself as a key figure at the heart of Cork’s defence.

“I felt like it came to me naturally, enjoying playing football, playing in the stadiums over here.

“It was completely different to academy and reserve football. The pressure of winning games, the pressure supporters put on you, managers having to win games to keep their jobs. I’m a pretty relaxed fella, I took it in my stride and it went pretty well.

When I signed permanently, Pat Dolan was the manager. He always wanted more off you. When I first came over, there was a part-time mentality to League of Ireland really. Shels and Bohs were the only two full-time teams — Cork were trying to catch up with them.

“Pat Dolan came in and wanted everything professional, full-time football. I was in a team at that time when we were all pretty much the same age. We trained together, we’d socialise together, it was a good time to be at Cork City, because the club was building up.”

When Murray first arrived in Ireland, Shelbourne and Bohemians were regularly dominating the league. Cork were a level below them, usually hovering around the third or fourth position without ever looking like genuine title contenders.

Gradually, however, things started to change. The Leesiders were slowly improving. After Dolan took charge of the club in 2003, they went up a level. Top players including Kevin Doyle, Neale Fenn and George O’Callaghan became an integral part of the side.

Having finished 16 points behind champions Shelbourne in the 2003 season, they mounted a serious title challenge the following campaign, and ended up finishing just three points behind Shels, who won the title again.

There was trouble behind the scenes, however, and manager Pat Dolan parted company with the club just three weeks prior to the start of the 2005 season, amid an increasingly fractious relationship between with then-chairman Brian Lennox.

6. Champions at last

Despite the less than ideal preparation for the new season, Cork’s players persevered. And ultimately, under new boss Damien Richardson, they won the title for just the second time in the club’s history, having previously prevailed in the 1992-93 season.

Although it was Richardson who got much of the praise for this success, Murray emphasises that Dolan deserves plenty of credit as well. The latter had set the wheels in motion for Cork’s eventual triumph, as they finished two points ahead of runners-up Derry City, pipping them to the trophy after beating their title rivals at Turner’s Cross on the final day of the season.

Pat Dolan salutes the City fans at the end of the game Pat Dolan managed Murray at Cork between 2003 and 2005. Source: INPHO

“Pat Dolan changed the mentality of the whole club, not just the playing staff,” he says. “He changed the mentality of the owner and the people who were running the club.

“It was a proper football club, a professional club. For different reasons, Pat lost his job. Damien came in, he knew he had a good team. It was just pushing his ideas and confidence onto us.

“His biggest attribute is probably being able to get the best out of individual players. He was getting the best out of every player in that team and it wasn’t him needing to be a tactical genius, it was ‘alright lads, here are the best players in their best positions’. Try to keep doing what you’re doing and we’ll have a great chance. The confidence that he gave you going into the matches was brilliant.”

Murray himself was a key component of the title success. The club captain was part of a defence that conceded just 18 goals in 33 games, though he is keen to portray the achievement as a collective triumph more than anything else.

“The team had been built up for three years really. We had top players in each position — that helps when you’ve got the best players in the team. It had been a case of getting there, getting there, getting there, and that season, everything just came together.

Everyone was playing to their highest level. The belief in the team was unreal. Damien had taken over the team and he built on Pat’s work and took our belief to a different level than we had even under Pat.

“The belief in the team was that we should be winning the league and we were lucky enough to do it. The bond between that team, we were a similar sort of age, so we did everything together. We believed in what we were doing, we believed in each other, and when that comes together, you’re lucky.

“They were great memories, a great team and some great lads involved in it.

“Looking back now, (in terms of) the 2005 side, most of would still talk and socialise together. It goes to show how close we were at the start of it as well.”

7. The beginning of the end

The club failed to build on this progress, however, emphasised by the fact that it has taken them more than a decade to replicate their 2005 title victory.

As has been written about in detail here, their 2005 double bid was undone owing partially to a sense of complacency.

Following the dramatic manner in which they won the league, it seemed the hard work had been done. Richardson’s side were competing in the FAI Cup final against an unheralded Drogheda team who finished the league in fourth position, 26 points behind the Leesiders.

Yet Paul Doolin’s men ultimately pulled off a big upset, earning a 2-0 victory, as Cork’s memorable season ended in decidedly anti-climactic fashion in front of almost 25,000 fans at Lansdowne Road.

Source: retroloi/YouTube

“I just thought we’d beat Drogheda. That’s not being smart or complacent, I’m just being honest. We were young boys and we nearly drank Cork dry for over a week,” the club’s former midfielder Joe Gamble told The42 in an interview back in June.

In hindsight, it’s easy to see that cup final as the beginning of the end for a hugely talented Cork side. Murray would certainly agree with that assessment.

“When we won the league, the biggest regret in my football career was not winning the double that year. We got to the cup final and threw it away really. We were awful on the day and deservedly lost.

“After that season, we lost two or three players straight away — Greg (O’Halloran) and Liam Kearney left for Shels after we won the league. You can’t believe it happens when you win a league, players leaving, then halfway through a season, George O’Callaghan left (to join Ipswich), so we were losing players and we weren’t getting players in that were as good.

“We were always rebuilding and never got back up to the level where we were. Then Alan Bennett went to Reading, Neale Fenn left (to join Bohemians), Danny Murphy left for Motherwell.

If we’d kept the same team together and built on it, we’d have been able to compete a lot better than we actually did. We finished third or fourth the next few years… We should have been challenging for the titles. It just didn’t happen for us. Sometimes you can’t really do anything about it, it’s just how football is.

“It’s easier to win that first title, but to win it again is the hard part.”

8. Cup final respite

Cork did at least partially make up for their 2005 FAI Cup final woe by claiming the trophy two years later. A disappointing season in the league saw them finish fourth for the second consecutive year — 13 points behind champions Drogheda.

But with Murray again captaining the side and delivering an assured display at the back, a 60th minute Denis Behan goal saw them beat Longford 1-0 in front of 10,000 people at the RDS. Yet even this glorious occasion was overshadowed to a degree by issues behind the scenes.

“It was horrendous weather in the RDS, one of the windiest days (I’ve experienced), awful conditions to play in,” Murray recalls.

“What I remember more are the off-field issues. Damien Richardson was pretty much told he’d lost his job before we played the cup final.

“It was a strange time, because the club was being run by new people that were a big reason why it went bust later.

“As a football person, the biggest thing is winning the league. That’s the most important trophy without question.

“But when you win a cup final, it’s one of the best days for a footballer. The whole emotion of a one-off game is great. We deservedly won it, we played really well as a team and it was another time where you thought ‘this is a serious team that we’re putting together’.

“Colin Healy and Liam Kearney were playing, we had a really good team then. It was a case of ‘we’re going places, we’ve won the cup.’ We really fancied ourselves because we had a good team with goals in us and we weren’t conceding many.

“After the game, it was a bit of a strange feeling, because we all knew Damien had lost his job.

“Three or four players were leaving again, but it’s (always) a great day to win a cup. We thought it was the start of a good time again.”

Source: retroloi/YouTube

9. A club in crisis

Bigger problems, however, were just around the corner. On the field, results were far from spectacular, but they were by no means disastrous either. The 2008 season saw them finish a disappointing fifth in the league, though they experienced the consolation of winning the Setanta Sports Cup. Defensively as well, they were looking solid, with Murray and co conceding only 28 goals in 33 games.

But everything else felt secondary to what was going on in the background at the club. They were docked 10 points after going into administration and it would just be the start of their problems in this regard.

On the 2008 campaign, Murray reflects: “It was going really well and at a certain point, it all crumbled beneath us. As much as you say it doesn’t affect us off the pitch, it definitely did in a good few games.

You knew someone would be coming in and saying: ‘You’re not getting your wages this week, there’s no money there.’ As much as you try to not focus on it, in the back of your mind there’s this nagging feeling where you’re thinking: ‘What’s going on here?’ It shouldn’t happen.

“But we were a pretty close team, so it wasn’t a case that anyone was hanging anyone else out to dry. We got on with it. We trained away, we tried to play as best we could. Sometimes, we didn’t play very well. It was obviously on some people’s minds and it was a really tough time to be playing for Cork City.

“Sometimes going out to play a match gave us a freedom just to relax and try to enjoy football. Sometimes it got a bit too much, but it was one of those things you couldn’t do anything about, which was probably the hardest thing. You didn’t know what was happening a lot of the time. You couldn’t find out what was happening a lot of the time. And that was probably harder than going out to play football.”

By then one of the club’s most loyal and admired servants, Murray could hardly be blamed for considering leaving this increasingly turbulent environment. After the 2008 season, with no new contract offer from Cork forthcoming, the defender agreed to go on trial with Leeds United, who were a League One side at the time.

“I played one game and trained a good bit,” he says. “I didn’t want to leave Cork City at the time, but there was no contract offer and I didn’t really want to go on trial either.

“But because it was Leeds United, you’re thinking ‘wow’. But nothing came out of it. They didn’t offer me anything. Whether it happened because of my trial or not (I don’t know), but when I came back from Leeds, there was a contract offer from Cork, and I was happy to sign again.”

10. Exit plan

Roddy Collins Murray had a strained relationship with manager Roddy Collins during their brief time together at Cork. Source: Neil Danton/INPHO

Paul Doolin had succeeded Alan Mathews as manager by that stage, and the club again performed respectably on the pitch during the 2009 campaign.

“We had a decent enough team, but I don’t think we were ever going to win the league. We finished third and there were problems that year, but not major problems. We were all alright. We were just getting on with it and playing away, there wasn’t any crazy stuff happening, but by the end of the year, it started going really badly.”

Following the conclusion of the 2009 season, Cork were expelled from the Premier Division, owing to the growing financial problems there. Doolin had enough with the stress of this situation and stepped down as manager, with Roddy Collins replacing him.

However, the Dubliner’s appointment only seemed to exacerbate an already highly tense situation. It was around then that after seven years, Murray finally decided the time was right to head for the exit door. Despite all the success he had enjoyed playing for Cork, relief was the prevailing emotion, given what he had been forced to put up with towards the end of his stint at Turner’s Cross.

I’m not sure if Roddy was told to get rid of me from the start, because from day one, he didn’t want me there at all,” Murray says. “I was just like: ‘I’m on a contract, I want to play for Cork City.’ It was getting harder and harder. They were making it harder for a lot of the players who were contracted to stay there. They pretty much refused to pay us most of the time.

“It came to a point where Roddy made it really difficult for every player. There was a horrendous atmosphere with him and (chairman) Tom Coughlan in charge of the team. In the end, it was an easy decision to move to Rovers.

“Within a month of me moving to Rovers, the club literally went out of business. It was a tough decision to leave (in some respects), but I was really happy to sign for Rovers at the time.”

11. Glory days

In many ways, the timing of this transfer could not have been better, as Shamrock Rovers were about to enjoy their best era in nearly two decades.

Michael O'Neill celebrates Murray worked under Michael O'Neill at Shamrock Rovers during the most successful period in the club's recent history. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

With Murray marshaling the defence, the Dublin club claimed back-to-back title wins in 2010 and 2011, though these feats were eclipsed by some remarkable results in Europe that saw them become the first-ever Irish side to qualify for the Europa League group stages.

“I loved the two years I had up there. It’s obviously a lot easier when we had the success we had, winning a couple of leagues, the Setanta Cup and doing so well in Europe. That makes it much easier to hit the ground running.

“Michael O’Neill had put a great squad in place for the two years I was there. We were a very strong squad. There were 20 odd players that were as good as each other. They were well able to play any week, whichever team he picked.

“Rovers were the best model for clubs in Ireland at that time. They had the stadium, they had the best manager in the league and we were going in the right direction.

“We won the league the first year on the last day, the club hadn’t won the league (since the 1993-94 season), so it was a massive thing for them. The year after, when we won the league and got to the group stages of the Europa League, it was a great time to be there at Rovers.”

Murray was one of the many players to benefit under the stewardship of Michael O’Neill, who went from being a relatively unknown quantity to one of the most highly regarded coaches in Ireland in the space of a three-year tenure with Rovers, before departing to take up his current role as Northern Ireland boss.

“Like most managers now, he’s thorough in his preparation of the team,” Murray says of O’Neill. “He knew all the players, how to get the best out of them, how to prepare us.

“He pretty much knew his teams three or four games before we played them. He’d pick that team for that match, he’d be able to organise us to get the best result, whether it was (playing a) different formation, (using) different personnel… His ability to prepare the team for a certain match and get the best out of certain players (was impressive).

It’s easy to get the best out of 11 players that you’re playing. But Michael was able to get the best out of 20 players within the squad. He could move players around, play them in certain games and everyone was happy in that squad. That was his biggest strength.”

Despite their heroics both domestically and in Europe though, Murray still feels the 2005 Cork team was the best side he has ever played with.

“At the time, in 2005, the league was a lot stronger than it was when I won it with Shamrock Rovers. So that was probably the biggest difference.

“That Cork team had the best players in the division at the time. They probably had 12 or 13 players at their best and we were well able for that.

“The Shamrock Rovers team from 2010 to 2011, the squad was the big thing there. We had really good players who were well able to be playing in the first team. But it was a lot easier. It was only Bohs the first year we won it that were challenging us. Sligo were closest to us the following year. So it was a lot weaker and there wasn’t so much competition, because the whole league was going through a (difficult experience).

“But I think we were the best team in the division, we deservedly won it, and the added experience of our European run made it a very good team with very good players.

“Michael’s gone on to do great things with Northern Ireland, Enda Stevens got his move (to Aston Villa), Alan Mannus got his move to St Johnstone, so there were some great players in that team.”

12. Europa euphoria

Source: rade vukovic/YouTube

In the historic European campaign, two moments in particular stand out — the win over two legs against Partizan Belgrade and getting to play a hugely talented Spurs side at White Hart Lane.

“As a Tottenham supporter, it was a pretty special moment and game. Somehow, we scored first there. Harry Redknapp was the manager at the time. He just looks at Gareth Bale and Luka Modric and tells them to warm up. That shows what level you’re at.

“The best memory out of all of it is probably when we did win in Belgrade against Partizan. The goal that Pat Sullivan scored, that penalty we got, the realisation that it is possible for a League of Ireland team to get into the group stages and compete with these sorts of teams.

“Luckily, we were the first team to do it. Dundalk did it last year and again, proved that it’s possible. To get it done year on year, that’s the next goal for the League of Ireland.”

He continues: “We didn’t get any points, which is really disappointing, but looking back now, there was no pressure on us, because we were the first team to do it.

I wish we’d done better, to be honest. After Dundalk did so well in the group stages (last year), it definitely was possible, but we just went through it. We didn’t really get out of it what we could have got out of it, but it’s all hindsight.

“At the time, it was a great experience to go to White Hart Lane, to go to Russia to play Rubin Kazan and over to Greece (to play) PAOK. These games are really games — it’s not like a friendly that a lot of League of Ireland clubs get against Premier League teams.

“It was a proper important game in Europe. They were great memories and it’s probably the one time you do feel like a Premier League footballer, travelling for those European games.”

Dan Murray leads the Rovers team out Dan Murray leads the Shamrock Rovers team out at White Hart Lane. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Despite being team captain and only 29 at the time, Murray was deemed surplus to requirements at Rovers by incoming manager Stephen Kenny, once he replaced a Northern Ireland-bound Michael O’Neill.

“I would have stayed there longer than I did if the manager at the time had wanted me to stay, but it wasn’t to be. I’ll always look back on my two years at Rovers as one of the best two years of my footballing life.”

13. Coming home

Nevertheless, Kenny’s decision paved the way for Murray to return to Cork City, who by then were under the ownership of Friends of the Rebel Army Society Ltd (FORAS), a supporters-trust that played a major role in bringing the club out of the doldrums following a couple of difficult years.

Then-manager Tommy Dunne summed it up nicely at the time when he said of his new signing: “He spent the last couple of seasons ‘in exile’ at Shamrock Rovers, but that was only due to the circumstances at the club. Everyone involved in the club, from the supporters, to the players and management knew that Dan only left the club as he is a professional player who had to look after his family, and no-one wanted to see him go.”

With all the changes that had been made, it’s no surprise to hear Murray comment that the club he returned to felt markedly different to the one he left behind.

It was a no-brainer (to re-join Cork) when Rovers didn’t want to sign me. I was really happy. The club had just got back promoted to the Premier Division. The whole place was on a high and they were building something.

“It was great to come back and it was a tough year the first season, because I got an injury, which was really affecting me being able to train and play.

“We finished mid-table. It was hard not being as competitive as before as I had been with different teams, we’d always been near the top two or three.

“But I could see that things were going well at the club and it was going in the right direction. When I came back, it was a totally different club compared to when I’d left. It was hard to adjust at times to the things that were so different to my time at Cork before.

“It was a different sort of time in my life as well. Coming back to Cork City, I had to go back and work as well as play football.

“I had a job (working as a manufacturing technician in a pharmaceutical company) and was playing. I’d never had a proper job until that time. It took a bit of adjusting to more so than the football side at Cork City.

“Tommy Dunne had done such a good job, getting the club back in the Premier Division. They were on a sound footing then. It was ready to kick on again, which probably happened when John Caulfield took over the club.

“It’s gone up to a different level since he’s come in. They’ve won the league and hopefully they can stay there a bit longer than we did in 2005.”

14. Aviva heartache

Dan Murray celebrates scoring in the last minute of injury time Murray re-joined Cork ahead of the 2012 season. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

As the team prepare for the FAI Cup final against Dundalk tomorrow, Murray will now doubt be reflecting on his own mixed fortunes in the season-ending showpiece game. He will have mixed emotions remembering the 2005 and 2007 games, but perhaps the biggest disappointment of them all came two years ago.

Not only did Cork lose 1-0 thanks to Richie Towell’s extra-time winner, but Murray was also unhappy to find out prior to the game that he did not feature in the starting XI.

Although he ultimately came on as a substitute in the 101st minute, it was not much consolation for a born competitor like Murray. He was just 33 when, a month later, he announced his retirement from the game, following a 13-year association with Irish football.

“I felt as fit as I’d felt for a good few years (in the 2015 season), I had no major injuries and got over any niggles I’d had from the years before that.

“I couldn’t always train, whereas the lads were full-time, so I was coming in when I could come in. I wasn’t training every single time, but I was playing pretty well for Cork City at the time.

It was during the cup final week and after the cup final where I sort of decided that I wouldn’t be playing again next year. I’d been playing every game for Cork from July, and then I was dropped for the cup final. It felt like ‘how has this happened?’ I was playing as well as anyone. I feel I didn’t deserve to be dropped, but I wasn’t there all the time, I wasn’t (always) training and I felt like that was influencing whether I would get picked or not.

“So it was a decision I made. If I wasn’t going to be there all the time and this was going to happen, it was just like; ‘I’ve had a good run at it, my full-time days as a footballer are over.’

“I had a good job that I didn’t want to jeopardise because you had to take a lot of time off to travel around the country (for matches).

“Did I stop too early? Maybe, because I could still play. But it felt right at the time.

“I honestly thought I’d miss it more than I have done. But it might have been different if I didn’t have the job to go into or a young family to look after. It might have been different if I didn’t have those things behind me. But I loved every bit of my football life and have no regrets about stopping when I did.”

Epilogue

Cork celebrate in the dressing room after winning The SSE Airtricity League Murray has been impressed by the manner in which the current Cork City side have won the 2017 Premier Division title. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Murray remains based in Cork to this day. He hasn’t stopped playing football entirely, lining out for Munster Senior League side Midleton against former club Shamrock Rovers in the FAI Cup as recently as last year.

In addition to his aforementioned underage coaching duties with Cork, the 35-year-old also retains a keen interest in the senior side’s fortunes. He was at Turner’s Cross last month to watch John Caulfield’s side finally emulate the achievement of the 2005 team, as a 0-0 draw with Derry was enough to see them crowned champions with two games to spare.

“It’s been fantastic. John’s built that team for four years. Everyone will say they’ve been the best over the course of the season. The start they had was ridiculous. It will probably never be repeated by another team.

Then to lose two of your best players halfway through the season (Sean Maguire and Kevin O’Connor), it’s a credit to the players and manager that they’ve been able to go on and win the league. The club are on a peak again and I think they’ve got the right manager and the right ideas to keep them there.

“My small fella’s massively into football, so he loves going to Turner’s Cross now. He has his favourite players and that’s the enjoyable thing. He gets a massive amount out of going to watch them.

“There was a sense of relief when they finally won it against Derry on that Tuesday night. They deservedly (were crowned champions) and hopefully now they can go and do the double.”

Murray has played with some excellent players over the years, such as Colin Healy, Roy O’Donovan and Joe Gamble, while he was also part of the defence that an 18-year-old Harry Kane scored his first-ever Tottenham goal against, converting Danny Rose’s cross after a 76th-minute substitute appearance at Tallaght Stadium.

“Kane scored that night with a good goal, so I started his career on a good path,” he adds in characteristically self-deprecating fashion.

And for the young players hoping to experience some of the glory and renown Murray enjoyed over the course of a memorable career, the message is simple: “Hard work, good attitude and believe in yourself. That’s all I’d say really. Your attitude is a massive factor. If you’re a big-time Charlie at 14 or 15, there’s no chance you’re going to make it.”

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