GLORY DAYS Ronan Murray and his Dundalk team-mates celebrates a late goal in an SSE Airtricity League Premier Division match against Waterford in 2018. Pic: Sportsfile
Ronan Murray from Belmullet enjoyed a 15 -year career as a professional soccer player until his retirement at the end of 2021
RONAN MURRAY played under three Irish managers in his professional club career.
At Ipswich Town, he was managed by Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane, while at Dundalk he played under current Republic of Ireland boss, Stephen Kenny. He was also managed by former Irish midfielder, John Sheridan at Plymouth and, briefly, at Notts County.
Murray, a native of Belmullet, ended up at Ipswich after trials at Chelsea, Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers.
“I had about twenty offers of trials,” Ronan (31) told The Mayo News recently as he reflected back on his professional playing career.
“But I couldn’t go to them all because they were all at the same time. I went to those four and settled on Ipswich, even though I was, and am, a Chelsea fan.”
(This reporter was devastated to hear that he turned down Middlesbrough. Why would anyone turn down ‘Boro?)
“I was trying to get a feel for a club while I was there,” continued Ronan.
“The trials were a two-way process. I was spotted during the Kennedy Cup campaign, and Robin Turner, who lives in Belmullet had played for Ipswich, had recommended me to them so I ended up there.”
“I went for a week at a time. Liverpool brought over a lot of Irish lads to look at. I went over with David Cawley [from Ballina]. We had a game against a local side and I got a hat-trick.
“I went to Chelsea a good few times over the two years.
“Brendan Rodgers was the coach of the under-age structure there at the time. He was brilliant, probably the best coach I ever came across.”
Murray might have made it at his beloved Chelsea, but he was not playing at home between trials.
“There is a system there now with the Airtricity under-age competitions, so players have a chance to play competitively at a high level between trials. That wasn’t here then, and I wasn’t as sharp as I needed to be going into the trials. But I’m not making excuses.”
During the period Ronan was on trial at Chelsea, he was also attending trials at Ipswich; their underage structure was run by Joe Royale – the former England international.
“Ipswich offered me a pre-contract agreement when I was 13. That would become a full contract when I was able to move over. That, and the fact that Chelsea told me they wouldn’t be inviting me back, were the deciding factors, so I signed for Ipswich when I was in TY in school.
“TY was great because I spent a lot of my time in England. The money wasn’t great but I was signed for a professional club in England, and that was all I wanted.”
At the time, Ipswich were managed by Jim Magilton, who had played for Ipswich and went on to manage Northern Ireland. Magilton was replaced by Roy Keane.
“Roy brought me in to train with the first team and gave me minutes on the pitch. My first game was at Exeter City in the Carling Cup. I came off the bench and I scored. Colin Healy was playing that night. He was an Irish international and he had played for Celtic and Sunderland.”
Roy Keane said of Murray after the match: “Of all the strikers at our club, Ronan is probably the most natural goalscorer we've got. The goal wasn’t even a chance and that's what good strikers do.”
In January 2011, Roy Keane left and Paul Jewell became manager of Ipswich.
Ronan was sent on loan to Torquay.
“That was disappointing,” he admits. “Because I was on the verge of the starting line-up. “Then he recalled me because of a few injuries, and I didn’t really want to be recalled because I was doing well at Torquay and the team was doing well.
“The recall meant I couldn’t play at Old Trafford in the League Two play-off final for Torquay. Jewell gave me a start against Preston in the Championship. The next season I was loaned out to Swindon Town under Paulo Di Canio.
“The training schedule under Di Canio was gruelling, but we won the league and got to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final at Wembley, so it was successful. I got to play at Wembley.”
Ronan went back to Ipswich but failed to make a breakthrough under then-manager, Mick McCarthy. In 2013 he secured a loan move to a struggling Plymouth side under another ex-Irish international, John Sheridan. He returned to Ipswich and was released by McCarthy.
“I was a free agent then. Chris Kiwomya was a coach at Plymouth and when he became manager of Notts County, he signed me,” he continued.
“County is a big club but they were struggling and went through a lot of managers while I was there. Kiwomya was replaced by Shaun Derry. He liked me from the off and I scored a couple of goals from the bench, so then I was in the starting eleven after that.”
Ronan said Notts went well for the first season and a half that he was there.
“We were near the bottom of League One the first season, but we escaped relegation on the last day of the season. Then we were third the following Christmas, but the wheels fell off after that due to loan players having to go back to their clubs.
“We were relegated to League Two on the last day of the season. When Derry left, Ricardo Moniz took over. I was ten months off injured so I wasn’t involved. Other managers came in but didn’t last long. There was Jamie Fullerton and Mark Cooper.
“John Sheridan came in then and he said he didn’t want me, and I was released.”
At that stage Ronan returned to Ireland and joined Galway United in 2017.
“I spent one season with Galway and it was probably my best season playing wise. I made the League of Ireland Premier ‘Team of the Year’ that season.
“At the end of the season, Dundalk came calling. They were flying in Europe at the time, and it was hard to refuse Stephen Kenny. We won the League and FAI Cup.
“ I moved to Sligo Rovers for two years. I was injured for most of my time at Sligo and it was very frustrating. Then I went to Drogheda, and after a season there I was forced to retire due to injury. The last few years of my career were dogged by injury and it’s very frustrating.”
In his own words: Ronan Murray on…
“Roy is what you see on the telly. He is very determined and a winner. He expects everybody else to be the same. He was very good to the six or seven Irish lads at Ipswich Town. He’d always acknowledge you; he’d stand for a minute and have a chat. He always looked out for us.”
Paulo Di Canio
“Paulo was a bit eccentric. ‘Enthusiastic about the game’ is probably the best way to describe him. His post-match reactions made Roy Keane look tame. The seven months I was under him was the hardest I ever had to work. I think I had seven days off in the seven months.
“Mick was sound. He was a good manager, but he didn’t really play me when he was at Ipswich so I was looking to get out on loan again.
Playing at Wembley Stadium
“It was with Swindon on March 25, 2012.
We lost 2-0 to Chesterfield in front of nearly 50,000 spectators. It was a different experience. You couldn’t hear anybody on the pitch with the crowd noise. Normal football communication was impossible. The place is massive. Obviously the pitch is very good. The dressing rooms are massive and the all-round facilities are something else.
Playing for Plymouth Argyle
“It was fine. It’s a nice city but it’s a bit like Belmullet, it’s two hours from everywhere.
John Sheridan, the manager, was tough on the players, and there was no sympathy for being Irish, but I enjoyed my time there. Conor Hourihane was captain while I was there.”
The difference between playing in England and Ireland
“There is greater strength in depth in England. In Ireland, a club would have a decent starting eleven and maybe two or three more on the bench, with the rest of the squad made up of youth team players, coming through.
In England, clubs have two elevens as good as each other – with fierce competition for places. The leagues are bigger too, maybe 24 teams in one league alone, so there are more matches. The standard is higher across the board.”
Coping with injuries
“The longest spell I was out was in England, was when I was with Notts County. Then towards the end of my career at Sligo Rovers and Drogheda, I was injured a lot too.
The thing about being injured is that you still have to turn up for training, but the session is different. You might be in the gym or getting physio. You have to turn up more days when you are injured than you do when you are fit. It’s not nice really, because you are not playing.”
Best advice he ever got
“You get closer to coaches than managers at football clubs.
Brian Klug was (and still is) a coach at Ipswich and he used to say: ‘Never get too high and never get too low’.
Don’t get too high when things are going well, or if you’re scoring or whatever, because you’ll have days when it won’t go so well. And not to get too down, the days it doesn’t go well. There’s always another game.”
Most difficult opponent
“John Terry. We played Chelsea on January 9 2011, in the FA Cup Third Round. They were the holders and they beat us 7-0. He was a man-mountain, but he was so good on the ball as well. He was impossible to get past. He was under no real pressure that day.”
Best player to play with
“Jack Grealish. In the 2103/14 season, Jack Grealish joined Notts County on loan from Aston Villa. He is absolutely gifted. He was only a young lad, maybe eighteen, but you could see the talent he had. Callum McGregor was very good too. He was on loan from Celtic – another gifted player.”
Most memorable match
“The Cup-tie against Chelsea. It was a novelty.
I was playing at Stamford Bridge against my favourite club.
Growing up in Belmullet, playing for Chelsea was always my ambition; playing at Stamford Bridge was always my aim. It was always the dream. I was delighted when I did play at Stamford Bridge, even if I was playing against Chelsea.”
“I was lucky and unlucky at times, and it all evened itself out across my career.
I got a few injuries but then there are lads that never got a career because they got badly injured at 19 or 20, and that was the end of them. So I have no big regrets.
I had a half-decent career; probably not as good as I would have wanted; when you’re an athlete you always want more, but you have to take what you get, and I have good experiences to take from it.”
Advice for young players who dream of making it as a professional footballer
“Work hard. Like the advice I got, if you have a bad day, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad player. Try harder at the next game or the next training session. There’s always another game to be played, to perform in and to win. Similarly, if you have a good game, there’s always another game to win, straight after it. Keep trying. Keep the dream alive.”
The future for Ronan Murray
“I might go into strength and conditioning. I might go into that side of it in the League of Ireland.”