By Ken Casellas
Teenager Ryan Murphy fell out of love with football after shining in Claremont’s stirring 69-point colts premiership triumph over Swan Districts in 2015.
But after a football-free 2016 he has ignited the passion for the game and made a splendid league debut --- in an unfamiliar role --- when the Tigers crushed East Fremantle in a round one contest at East Fremantle Oval last Saturday.
His consistently spirited and skilful play as a fleet-footed wingman and a strong and determined inside midfielder earned him the accolade as Claremont’s fairest-and-best colts player in the 2015 season.
But with the wealth of talent in the Claremont league side’s midfield this year, the 19-year-old Murphy, who is not related to the club’s captain Jake Murphy, was going to find it tough to gain a spot in the league side as a midfielder ahead of his namesake, Jye Bolton, Ryan Neates, Ryan Lim, Bailey Banfield and others.
However, he was able to force his way into the senior side for the season’s opener as a small defender. The 1208TH player to represent Claremont in senior football, he performed with dash and assurance in a back pocket, finishing the contest with three marks, 12 kicks, three handpasses and four inside 50s.
It was in the second week of pre-season training that new coach Darren Harris suggested to Murphy that he should concentrate on developing his skills and using his natural pace and precise foot-passing to become a successful defender.
So, Murphy took up the challenge and was used as a defender in match simulation practice and scratch matches. He was soon impressing with his speed and accurate kicking as he developed into a rebounding backman.
“Now I try to run and carry and break lines,” he said. And that was evident early in the first quarter of the match against East Fremantle when Murphy marked an errant, rushed kick from Sharks defender Ryan Lester-Smith on the scoreboard wing. He played on, took a bounce and passed accurately to Zac Langdon.
Another confident dash, complete with a bounce, early in the third quarter saw Murphy pass the ball to Ian Richardson, who delivered to Alex Manuel for a Claremont goal.
Murphy admitted that in the two weeks before the match against East Fremantle that he had learnt a lot when he was used in a back pocket in scratch matches against Subiaco’s Liam Ryan and South Fremantle’s Cory Dell-Olio.
“I learnt heaps,” he said. “I’ve got my offensive style in the backline reasonably natural, but I’m still learning a lot about the defensive side of things. You always have to be accountable when opposed to players like Liam Ryan. Give those types of players too much space and they’ll kill you.
“Playing on him, you’ve got to body him a up. He’s got a lot of pace and you have got to watch him because he gets high up the ground. He’s also got an amazing leap, so you’ve got to try to block his run without giving away a free-kick.
“And against Dell-Olio, you’ve got to be switched on 24/7. He kicked a good goal from a stoppage when I was late to get to him. I didn’t get enough body on him. You can’t give players like him an inch.”
Regarding his decision not to play football in 2016, Murphy said that after the excitement of playing in the colts premiership side in 2015, he didn’t have the passion or motivation to take part in a full pre-season program and then play for a full season.
“I felt that I wanted to have a bit of a break from football and focus a bit more on my studies and work a bit more,” he said.
“I still watched a lot of football and kept up to date with things at Claremont. I always had the intention of coming back to Claremont, and after a year off, I was passionate about going back and giving it a hundred per cent.
“My goal was to getting into the league at some stage of the season. But I certainly wasn’t expecting to be in the team for round one. I now like to back myself in, whereas generally in the past I put a lot of pressure on myself to play well.
“This year I’m going out there with the plan of backing myself in. And it has helped me a lot with the support I’ve had from the coaches and all the players.”
Last year Murphy, who was a member of the Scotch College winning Alcock Cup team in 2013, was studying for a commerce degree at the University of Western Australia before swapping to a sports science course. “Now I’ve taken a semester off and am working full-time, cleaning cars at a rental business in Victoria Park,” he said.