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21 years after his first Wembley final, an ex-Ireland international could be set to play in another

London is calling for Joe Murphy and Tranmere Rovers.

soccer-worthington-cup-final-tranmere-rovers-v-leicester-city Tranmere Rovers manager John Aldridge, with Joe Murphy in the background, before the 2000 League Cup final. Source: EMPICS Sport

THE STADIUM LOOKS very different now to when he first encountered it, but the lure of Wembley is as strong as ever for Joe Murphy.

The Dubliner was only 18 years of age when he played for Tranmere Rovers against Leicester City in the last League Cup final to be staged at the famous venue before it was demolished.

Now, at the age of 39, another trip down to London is on the cards for the veteran goalkeeper, who returned for a second spell with Tranmere last summer.

Having upset the odds by defeating Peterborough United in the quarter-finals, Tranmere booked their place in next month’s EFL Trophy final by overcoming another club who are chasing promotion to the Championship, Oxford United, on Tuesday.

One more formidable side from League One, Sunderland, await in the final as Tranmere – who are sixth in League Two – aim to win the competition for the first time since 1990.

Prior to this week’s 2-0 win against Oxford, Murphy had played in every minute of his side’s six previous fixtures in the EFL Trophy campaign. However, he was forced to watch the game from home after being struck down by a bout of the flu.

salford-city-v-tranmere-rovers-sky-bet-league-two-the-peninsula-stadium Joe Murphy pictured during a League Two fixrure between Salford City and Tranmere Rovers in October. Source: PA

Murphy has been providing back-up to first-choice stopper Scott Davies in League Two this season, so it remains to be seen whether manager Keith Hill will restore the former Republic of Ireland international to the team for the visit to Wembley on 14 March.

“When you’re second-choice you want to get out on the pitch whenever you can,” says Murphy, who had a brief spell at Sunderland during the 2005-06 season.

“You’d be looking forward to playing when you haven’t been doing it week-in-week-out, so it was disappointing not to make it for the game on Tuesday night. At the same time I was delighted for the club and the lads, because they were brilliant.

“Our main objective is to get back to League One, so the final is a bonus. We’ll play a league game the Tuesday night before the final on the Sunday, and I’m sure the gaffer will think about [team selection] then. It’ll be great to be involved one way or another, which I hopefully will be.”

It’s testament to Murphy’s professionalism and longevity that he’s in contention to play in another Wembley final, which comes 21 years after John Aldridge selected him to start in a 2-1 defeat to Premier League opposition – a Leicester side managed by Martin O’Neill – in the Worthington Cup decider of February 2000.

Now in his 22nd season of playing first-team football as a professional, Murphy – who turns 40 in August – has clocked up over 550 senior appearances. From the Premier League to League Two, he has played in all four tiers of league football in England.

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oxford-united-v-tranmere-rovers-papa-johns-trophy-semi-final-kassam-stadium Kaiyne Woolery of Tranmere Rovers celebrates after scoring in Tuesday's win against Oxford United. Source: PA

He has already experienced the redeveloped Wembley too, playing there twice for Scunthorpe United in 2009. A defeat to Luton Town in the EFL Trophy final was followed by League One play-off success at the expense of Millwall.

Murphy was the goalkeeper on the Ireland U16 team that won the European Championship in 1998. He went on to earn two senior caps in friendlies, making his debut under Brian Kerr against Turkey in 2003 and playing against Algeria in 2010 for Giovanni Trapattoni.

He says: “As soon as the teamsheet came up on Sky Sports News before the game [against Oxford] the other night, people were getting onto me saying ‘I see you’re not even involved’, and then afterwards there was stuff like ‘it would be great for you to be involved in the final, one last hurrah’. I’m there thinking ‘don’t write me off just yet’.

“Physically I feel really good, as good as I have done in a long time. I’ve felt better for the last four or five years than I probably did when I was younger. Even though I’d love to be playing every week, I think you start to appreciate it more when you know you’re maybe coming towards the end.

“You have to have the mentality that you think you could still play in the Premier League and for Ireland. That’s my mentality. I know it’s not going to happen but in order to stay hungry, you have to believe in your own ability to that level.

“I still enjoy going into training every day and pushing Scotty [Davies] to try and get into that team. I’m not here just to sit on the sidelines and cheer on the boys. It’s great to see them doing well but I still have that desire to be on that pitch with them.”

soccer-nationwide-league-division-one-manchester-city-v-tranmere-rovers Murphy had just turned 18 when he made his Championship (First Division) debut. Source: EMPICS Sport

The EFL Trophy final could pit Murphy against one of his former Ireland team-mates, Aiden McGeady, while current Irish international Lee O’Connor will also hope to feature for Tranmere.

The 20-year-old Waterford native, who’s on loan from Celtic, starred in a holding midfield role again in the victory over Oxford, having earned the man-of-the-match award for his performance against Peterborough in the previous round.

Aiden O’Brien, who has five Ireland senior caps, is also on Sunderland’s books alongside McGeady. The 27-year-old attacker played in their semi-final against Lincoln City on Wednesday, with McGeady scoring in the penalty shootout that settled the contest.

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Paul Dollery

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