Wednesday 19 June 2019

Murphy ready to grab Tigers' 'poisoned chalice' with both hands

Leicester legend knows the reconstruction of the 'empire' could be the most difficult job of his life - but it was an offer he couldn't refuse

‘Sometimes you have to take your medicine and dig yourself out of the hole,’ says Leicester’s head coach Geordan Murphy. Photo: Getty
‘Sometimes you have to take your medicine and dig yourself out of the hole,’ says Leicester’s head coach Geordan Murphy. Photo: Getty
David Kelly

David Kelly

Six weeks into an eight-week losing spell as interim coach that matched their worst losing streak in 44 years, Geordan Murphy was sitting in the Leicester Tigers' boardroom, expressions of glum determination staring back at him.

Someone needed to break the silence. Murphy spoke up.

"What is the plan? Are we looking to bring someone else in? Where are we going?"

Chairman Peter Tom, nonchalantly, replied. "Well, actually, Geordan, the plan is you. We're going to offer you the role for a few years. We think you're doing a good job."

It was too good to turn down yet at the same time as they were convincing him he was the right man, Murphy had to take the time to convince himself.

After all, this is a club whose fall from grace has been spectacular; from back-to-back European titles at the start of this century, an unbroken sequence of appearances in the domestic play-offs and a bunch of titles to boot.

Now the former home of Martin Johnson, one of England's rugby giants, was battling relegation, firing coaches with the of a soccer club amidst dwindling attendances and falling revenues.

Did he really want this?

"It would have been much easier to say no! People would have said to me it's a poisoned chalice," says Murphy

"But listen, how often do you get an opportunity like this. A new guy might come in and clear everyone out. Where are you then?"

He spoke to trusted colleagues; Richard Cockerill, like himself once Mr Leicester but deemed surplus to requirements as the club slowly lost its way in recent times.

Graham Rowntree, a stalwart of the feared ABC pack of yore. Paul Gustard. Leo Cullen, once a Leicester colleague. They all delivered the same message that, in truth, he already knew himself.

"There is never a right time," Murphy says. "Just do the best you can. It's tough. But I like a challenge. And it might never come again. Carpe Diem."

Before somebody else did.

"The interim tag was getting a little bit difficult and I'd been informed when I'd been given it on a temporary basis that we had received job applications from all corners of the world. People had told me that pretty much everyone had thrown their name in the hat.

"So I'm thinking to myself well there are obviously people who are more qualified than me who are in for this job. So I was just trying to do the best I could do. Needless to say it was pretty flattering and humbling."

Nonetheless, the reconstruction of empire is much more difficult to oversee than the implosion of one. But then Murphy already knew that.


"The board and I came to the conclusion that we've been papering over the cracks in the past few years and we just haven't been good enough. And we haven't really addressed the problems.

"We're not bringing through young English players and we're not competing in the Premiership. So this is what the challenge is, to make a huge U-turn on all of that and try to start rebuilding.

"I guess I know the place pretty well, I've been around a long time. I've seen us be successful and not be successful. And I know the reasons why both happen.

"I've seen us build really strong teams and that's the task here. I know what it takes to be successful. And I'm passionate enough to want to do it.

"It's a tough gig. Everyone expects us to be performing week in week out and we're not in a place where we've been doing that this season for a number of reasons. So it's up to us to iron out those issues and get us back on track.

"I'm a supporter of Leicester and I understand the fans' frustrations, I know where they're coming from. I certainly would be frustrated.

"It's a tough pill to take when you're not winning and you're down at the bottom of the table scrapping for points. But sometimes you have to take your medicine and dig yourself out of the hole.

"We had been a big club for over 125 years in this country and the ambition is to be there in another 125 years. We're building a hotel and a multi-story car park to finance the club down the line.

"We don't have a money man bank-rolling us like Saracens, Exeter, Bath or Gloucester. So from that point of view, we have to balance the books and that also makes it challenging for us.

"And the league is completely different from the PRO14. There's no respite from the grind.

"I hear the arguments when I come back to Ireland for a pint. If you go anywhere in the Premiership, because there is relegation, you have to scrap for absolutely every point because they're fighting to stay alive.

"If you're not fully-loaded going to Newcastle who are bottom and have six internationals, they can absolutely rip you to pieces. I'd love to have a player management system!"

The job may change but the person will not. "I'll coach with a smile on my face as always." But nobody is too good to fail.

"That's exactly where I am in my head. It's like starting again from ground zero. There is a huge history and pedigree to Leicester Rugby.

"Yet in the past five seasons we've probably sacked five or six coaches. Players in, players gone. Too much instability. I want to be here in the immediate future but beyond that to try and fix things.

"But it's a results business. I've seen enough guys go. I'll do the best job I can do to build a foundation that this club can be proud of down the line.

"Of course, I'd like it to happen sooner."

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