William ‘Winkie’ Murphy has rebuilt his Linfield career not just once, but twice. Now he faces the challenge of doing it a third time — only on this occasion the defender is going to find it much tougher.
Incurring the wrath of manager David Jeffrey, Murphy was fined, suspended and transfer listed by the Blues for a ‘breach of club discipline,’ after he failed to report for a training session on New Year’s Day.
Now forgiven, the imposing six-foot plus centre-half returned to training at Windsor Park last night with player and club ready to move on.
Eighteen months ago Murphy found himself in a similar position regarding his future at the Blues.
Dumped into a living hell in a Spanish jail, Murphy faced charges regarding counterfeit bank notes after being previously arrested in Spain two years earlier.
Mass murderers, drug traffickers and rapists shared the three jails, two near the resort of Torremolinos and in one Madrid, which he was banged up in before being released on bail pending a court case.
After two months with the prospect of an eight-year prison sentence hanging over him, charges were dropped and Murphy wasn’t found guilty of any offence.
Playing catch-up after missing large parts of Linfield’s pre-season preparations, he faced a tough battle, but having overcome a cruciate ligament injury sustained in the autumn of 2001 his steely determination had shone through before and he returned last season to play 24 times as Linfield regained the Irish League title and Irish Cup to make it four doubles in five seasons.
Indeed when the going got tough in January last year Jeffrey turned to his tried and trusted defensive duo of Murphy and captain Noel Bailie for a Belfast derby clash with Glentoran and from then on he hardly missed a game.
Putting the sad episode, which has overshadowed the Blues opening up a five-point gap at the top of the Carling Premiership this week, behind him and repeating last season’s achievement, however, is going to be a big ask.
He is on the transfer list, but Murphy is likely to want to stay and fight for a first-team place.
He will turn 37 at the end of the month and there is a clutch of younger men after his shirt.
David Armstrong and Chris Casement were Jeffrey’s preferred choice until recently, when once again he turned to Murphy when things started to go a little awry. Billy Joe Burns then took Murphy’s place for Tuesday’s win over Crusaders.
A few years ago nobody stood a chance of ousting Murphy from the Blues team. Signed from Ards as a 23-year-old, he quickly became a key member of the team, winning the league in 2000 and again in 2001, as the tradition of hardman centre-halfs at Linfield, following in the the footsteps of the likes of 70s hero Peter Rafferty and current manager Jeffrey who wore the No.5 shirt throughout the 1980s, continued.
He and Bailie formed a solid partnership as ever presents during the run of three successive doubles between 2006 and 2008, with Murphy particularly outstanding during the 2006-07 season, picking up a personal double by winning the Football Writers and Ulster Player of the Year awards.
Just short of 550 games for the club, it’s going to take some more of Murphy’s famous determination for him to return this time and reach that milestone — but don’t put it past him.