Robert Murphy – A Career Filled With Honour, Heartbreak and Humility

“BOB is a once in a generation type character in what he has achieved both on and off the field,” Western Bulldogs head coach Luke Beveridge said when addressing the media alongside his retiring skipper. Kind words like this are often used when a player retires, as the media, coaches, clubs, peers and so on thank them for their contribution to the game of AFL. Every so often though, such kind words can’t exactly encompass what that player has achieved for his club and the impact that they have made on the sport. The oldest man in the AFL, affectionately known as ‘Bob’, is one player that fits the mould to a tee.

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ROBERT Murphy became a Western Bulldog in 1999 when the club used the 13th pick to draft him. What followed was a 310 game career that experienced heart-stopping highs and agonizingly painful lows. Throughout the last 17 years though regardless of ladder position, head coach or personnel surrounding him Bob Murphy remained a passionate, lauded figure filled with class and character that brought the others around him to their feet and forced them to strive for greatness.

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THE slim framed Murphy made his debut against Carlton in Round 19 of the year 2000 and had an immediate impact on the game. After finding his feet for a handful of seasons and with new coach Rodney Eade at the helm in 2005, Murphy found himself playing as a smaller centre half forward which saw him kick 99 goals in the next four seasons. His first-class foot skills, elite consistency and dashing speed helped Murphy lead to a Bulldogs resurgence with multiple top-four finishes in the latter part of the 00’s although they couldn’t break through and make a Grand Final.

IT was during those successful years that Murphy cemented himself as one of the best rebounding defenders in the AFL making his first of two All-Australian nods in the year 2011 and finished runner up the Bulldogs best and fairest count. Murphy didn’t garner many headlines or stories during those years, with popular, glossier players like Brad Johnson, Scott West and 2008 Brownlow Medalist Adam Cooney claiming that honour. There was no denying his contribution to the club though and in the coming years that would be a pillar that helped hold the club together.

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AFTER the toll of three consecutive preliminary final’s losses took its toll the Bulldogs sacked coach Rodney Eade and hired long-time Geelong and Essendon assistant Brendan McCartney in 2011. What followed was three seasons of turmoil for the club with ladder finishes of 15th (2012), 15th (2013) and 14th (2014). Murphy quickly found himself as a veteran leader of the club alongside the likes of Matthew Boyd, Dale Morris and skipper Ryan Griffin.

THE tumultuous off-season of 2014 was a tough one to endure for the Bulldogs, with Griffin (widely regarded as their best player), Cooney and Shaun Higgins requesting trades away from the club, Brendan McCartney handing in his resignation from the club and Simon Garlick resigning from his role as CEO. Club president Peter Gordon stressed to the AFL community that the club was not in crisis, but all the signs pointed to the contrary. What followed was Luke Beveridge being named head coach, an influx of more youthful talent and Bob Murphy being handed the reigns as the clubs captain.

WITH 271 games on his resume, Murphy had the responsibility of dragging the club out of its rut thrust upon him. Many expected the Dogs to struggle in season 2015, but they defied the odds thanks to Murphy’s veteran leadership allowing the club to come together and return to the finals for the first time since 2010. He also became the first player to be named the captain of the All-Australian team and win the AFLPA captain of the year award in the same year and led the Western Bulldogs into season 2016 as one of the upcoming clubs full of promise and excitement.

SO after such a cinderella story, surely premiership glory was close for Murphy and the Dogs, right? The story is only half true, with Murphy succumbing to an ACL injury just three games into the season forcing him to miss the Bulldogs maiden AFL flag. However, instead of becoming withdrawn and disheartened at his misfortune, Murphy rallied and supported every moment of their season as a true champion leader would. Of course, at the time of his injury, he had no idea that the Bulldogs would go on to finish 7th, take out West Coast on their home ground in round one of the finals, derail Hawthorn’s bid for four straight flags next, topple Greater Western Sydney in a prelim classic and then break a 55-year drought claiming the 2016 premiership against the Sydney Swans.

THROUGHOUT it all though players, media personnel and every man, woman and dog (no pun intended) harped on about how Murphy’s presence off the field helped the Bulldogs achieve such high levels of success. This all led to an emotional moment on Grand Final day when Luke Beveridge handed Bob Murphy his premiership medallion on stage claiming ‘no-one at the club deserved this more than him’.

SINCE Murphy has been at the Dogs he has seen their membership more than double from roughly 18,000 to over 39,00 heading into this season. His impact on the game in his 17 seasons can’t be measured and you would be hard-pressed to find someone who could say a bad word about the 35-year-old. He stuck by the Western Bulldogs through thick and thin and helped turn-on of the darkest periods in the franchise’s history into the brightest. Murphy won’t go down as the greatest AFL player ever, or even a great player at his position, but as I’m sure he will demonstrate in his final two games as Bulldogs skipper, he is one of the greatest leaders the sport has ever seen who often sacrifices himself for the good of the team, club and game of AFL as a whole.

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