'This playoff is my swansong... unfortunately age catches up with us all'
Kieran Murphy didn’t mean to let slip that his career as a rugby player is over at the age of 33, that the two-legged Championship final against star-studded Saracens over two June Sundays will bring an end to his four-and-a-half-year Ealing adventure and a decade-long stint in the pro ranks. Put on the spot by RugbyPass as to what his contractual situation is for next season after the expiry of his current one-year deal, he told it as it is rather than duck, dive and fib.
He will be missed. He came to rugby late, making an October 2011 debut for Scarlets just a few months shy of his 24th birthday, and he will now leave it early on his own terms when the final whistle sounds next weekend at the StoneX Stadium following on from this Sunday’s first leg at Vallis Way.
Murphy could have lingered as Ealing were keen on renewal but the back-rower has had his fill and having worked previously as a senior sales executive in Cardiff before trying his luck at Parc y Scarlets, he is now ready to fully embrace a role with Prospera Wealth Management, specialising in pensions, tax efficiency, later life planning and so on.
“I’m not sure this is public knowledge yet but I’ll be retiring at the end of the year,” admitted Murphy when asked what his Ealing plans are regardless of the result versus Saracens. “It’s been an amazing journey for me. I have really enjoyed my time and it has come to a point where it’s naturally the right time to walk away from rugby.
“It’s kind of nice for me. I had a long chat with Ben (Ward, director of rugby) about maybe doing another year and he has just supported the decision really that I have got a few things going on outside that I am excited about, so this playoff is my swansong and hopefully I can top it off with getting Ealing into the Premiership.
— Ealing Trailfinders (@ealingtfrugby) June 11, 2021
“To be honest, the club has probably outgrown me. When I first came it was an incredibly ambitious club and I now feel like it is definitely heading up in the right direction in terms of being a top, top club. Unfortunately, age catches up with us all but the club definitely deserves to be where it is and I feel like I will be supporting Ealing for the rest of my days. I’m excited to see where this group is going to go in the next two to three seasons but also in the next five, ten, 15 years where this club could be. There is massive potential and to have played a part in that in any way is brilliant.”
It’s a regular occurrence that retiring players often find the transition to finding something satisfactory in the rugby afterlife quite a stressful ordeal. Murphy, though, is different gravy, his determination to have an alternative career to jump into after Ealing being underpinned by the chastening experience of the London Welsh liquidation.
Having joined Brive in 2013 for a French adventure that he thoroughly enjoyed, what was promised at the Exiles when he was tempted to London in 2015 failed to live up to expectation. Instead of competing for Premiership promotion, the backside financially fell out of Welsh in the winter of his second season and Murphy felt blessed he was able to play for Ealing just three weeks after his last Exiles appearance in December 2016.
“It kick-started my reaction to what happens if I can’t play rugby anymore,” he explained, pinpointing the moment when he realised he needed to start seriously planning for a life beyond the dressing room. “It was a kick up the arse in terms of what you are going to do, but I just remember feeling desperately sorry for a lot of people who were basically losing their careers as a result of the financial situation the club found itself in.
“At the time I was probably a little bit naive to it. I thought I should be fine, I should get something, which luckily I did when Ealing stepped in, but looking back that was not necessarily going to be a given that I would find another club,” said Murphy, relieved. “It was a really humbling experience, really difficult to see a lot of good friends struggle to find where their next paycheque was coming from but in terms of a wake-up call it set me on a more focused path in terms of being prepared for when that day you do retire will come that you are in a position to be comfortable with it happening.”
Murphy definitely exudes that comfort. “If you need any financial advice let me know,” he quipped, making a pitch for the RugbyPass pennies. “We’re doing a lot of stuff with rugby players and helping them not only prepare financially for their careers after rugby but also offering them guidance in terms of training, academic stuff, that kind of area, so I’m trying to pass on a bit of the experience that I have been through with Welsh and the journey I have been on to help people really prepare both financially and mentally for when their time will come.
“You see it now with the mental health campaigns that are going on, a lot of ex-players struggle with that first two, three years after retiring. I don’t know how it will affect me in terms of not playing but I know in terms of what I have got in place for after rugby I feel comfortable that I’m in a good position so that is one less worry on my shoulders coming towards the time. If we can prepare as many people as possible to feel a lot more confident when their time comes, we can hopefully do a bit of good.”
That is precisely what Ealing have achieved, doing a bit of good and more for the reputation of tier-two rugby in England. The cost-cutting RFU might not treasure this level of the sport, but the fashion in which the unfashionable Trailfinders have evolved their business by implementing long-term initiatives such as establishing an academy, forging links with Brunel University and embedding itself amongst the West London community beyond its Vallis Way base has even the likes of long-time Saracens boss Mark McCall admitting their playoff final rivals are a Premiership club in everything but name.
Thank you ???? https://t.co/BIx4MltxgV
— Kieran Murphy (@Kieran_Murphy8) May 19, 2020
“Absolutely, the Championship is an undervalued commodity in terms of the effort that players put in, the heart and soul of the rugby club,” insisted Murphy. “These are clubs that develop very good players and the stats of the England players that have come through and cut their teeth in the Championship is massive, and also stories like Ealing just won’t happen if all funding is cut and there is no ambition to come up.
“We as a club see massive value in it. If it wasn’t for the Championship I wouldn’t have had a career for the last four or five years, so it’s massively important and I feel the RFU need to look at what they get out of it in terms of bringing players through and making sure that it continues to be a breeding ground for international players and also for teams like Bristol, like Exeter and hopefully like Ealing moving forward where you can get top teams coming up through it.
“We come from humble beginnings, I suppose. We haven’t got that history but in terms of what we are building, we are starting to build our own legacy. We’re becoming really active in the borough of Ealing in trying to attract fans with how we play and winning games is massive for that. If you are an outsider looking in, how we would like outsiders to perceive us is we are a hard-working, attacking side at the start of a journey looking to be in the Premiership.
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“Without drawing too many grand comparisons but you look at how clubs like Bristol and Exeter have come through the Championship and are challenging at the top of the Premiership, that is where we want to be as a club and it’s not just pie in the sky words, there are actionable things happening behind the scenes to build towards the club being in that position.
“When I first came to Ealing we were a really good attacking side but we were a bit leaky in defence and weren’t winning the tighter games,” continued Murphy. “I feel now we have got a lot more structure in our game and it’s starting to pay dividends now. We are not just trying to make a contest of it against Saracens, we are looking to get promoted. We are well trained, well prepared and it would be the pinnacle of my career. I have got no doubt this team belongs in the Premiership and we belong in this playoff final. We have got the underdogs tag but we deserve to be there.”
Whatever the outcome, Murphy will exit with his head held high, a late developer who has enjoyed a career spanning three countries (Wales, France and England) and four clubs (Scarlets, Brive, London Welsh and Ealing). “I was probably a little too raw as a youngster in terms of understanding the structures and the intricacies of the lineout, attack shape and all that. It’s been a double edge sword but for me, I wouldn’t do it any differently. I managed to get to university, do a bit of travelling and work a little bit before rugby so all that stuff helped shape my character and will help me be a little more comfortable with the transition.
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“It’s whatever suits the player,” he added, contrasting his wanderlust with one-club legends. “You look at some club guys who have got 150, 200 caps and that is an amazing achievement to be playing at your home ground. That is brilliant but I did want to travel and to get the opportunity to go to France was amazing and one that I really enjoyed.
“It was daunting at the time but it shaped me as a character. I was pretty quiet when I was at the Scarlets but I was forced to come out of my shadow a little more when I moved to France and then when I came to London as well. Just having that little bit of diversity, living in France and learning another language, moving to London, all that stuff shaped me into being a little bit more rounded,” he said, going on to wrap up the interview by listing some rugby highlights.
“My Heineken Cup debut (for Scarlets versus Munster) was a massive thing. Doing a stint in the Welsh squad just before they toured Australia was amazing, but the one that most springs to mind is the Championship Cup win over London Irish. Amazing day, amazing game. It was the first time Ealing had beaten one of the relegated Premiership sides that had come down and the bragging rights in the house gave an extra bit of edge.
“My fiancee is the marketing manager for London Irish so there is a bit of rivalry there. That was probably one of my favourite days playing rugby, playing against the Irish and winning a cup. The plan now is to stay in London while I’m making the transition. I have made a lot of friends at Ealing and my core network is there. To retire and move away would be difficult so I’ll be living in London for the next few years.”
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