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‘I feel pretty much betrayed, it was a dark place for a few weeks’ – Geordan Murphy on his Leicester exit

Geordan Murphy came to Leicester Tigers on a boat and left on a sinking ship. He arrived as a teenager, squatting in a crummy flat, crammed with beans and beanbags; he departed as a balding 40-something married father-of-three in hedge-trimming, hosepipe washing, leafy suburbia.

e had spent more of his years at Welford Road than either his childhood home in east Kildare or his marital home in the East Midlands.

But now it is all over. This weekend will be filled with minis rugby for one of the two boys. He will bring little Oscar and Ottili along too.

But he will also find time to settle down this afternoon to watch his old club, once kings of England and Europe, tackle Connacht in the Champions Cup, as they continue a revival which seemed improbable to so many.

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Not to Murphy, though, pitched into the hot-seated cauldron three years ago when the club was at its lowest ebb, then unceremoniously ejected as he was striving to lay the foundations for this season’s remarkable renaissance.

He could be forgiven for taking his couch seat with a large bottle of bitter; he will be content with something slightly less strong.

He will them to win, but some pain resides, always close to the surface, even now, 14 months after his dismissal.

“It’s a strange one,” he says now, surveying the ruins from contented domestic bliss.

“Looking back, overall, I don’t feel overly happy with the way I was treated. I feel pretty much betrayed by the place to a certain extent. It’s very mixed emotions because I have a lot of friends who are still playing and coaching there.

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“And I’ve a pedigree of nearly 24 years there. But, realistically, the whole thing was handled pretty badly. And certainly, the way I was treated wasn’t great. It’s disappointing, really. That’s life. It’s a realisation it’s very much business, not personal. I don’t take it personally.

“It was a dark place for a few weeks when you experience every emotion.”

Rugby’s ‘George Best’ made 322 appearances for the club over 16 trophy-laden seasons, including four as captain, immediately beginning a coaching role in 2013, just as the once-mighty club, dubbed the “Manchester United” of rugby, started declining.

In 2018, he was offered an interim head coach role, but around him, chaos reigned, with four coaches sacked in just two years – including former Leinster boss Matt O’Connor just one game into a season.

They had indeed become the Manchester United of rugby, a once-proud, winning dynasty, losing their way and ceding culture in irretrievable decline.

Three years later, Murphy got the full-time Director of Rugby gig; he was assured that a rebuilding job was needed, but ultimately, it seemed he was still a de facto caretaker.

When Covid hit, five players walked out; Murphy promoted and bought in some key players, central to their revival, and brought in canny head coach Steve Borthwick.

Yet the future he was planning would continue without him; the axe fell in November 2020; like him, the Director of Rugby role now suddenly rendered redundant.

“The timing was horrific,” he says, referring to his ascension to the role in 2018, if not also his peremptory departure.

“I was assured it wasn’t going to be a short fix, it would be a long-term task. And it took me nearly a year to start getting the people in I wanted, like Steve Borthwick, in a relegation battle with a squad that wasn’t really mine and it was going to take time to change given contracts.

“We made some smart financial decisions and then Covid hits, we start haemorrhaging cash. A lot of people lost jobs in fairness.”

He’s not so immune from admitting to mistakes. Sometimes the pressures seemed unbearable, as was evidenced when he launched a TV tirade in the context of the sport’s concussion crisis, railing against how rugby had gone soft when one of his players received a red card for a dangerous tackle.

He knew he was handling a poisoned chalice when he spoke to us in January 2019. He just didn’t expect that those who gave it to him would be filling it themselves.

“There’s things I would have done differently,” he says.

“I should have stuck to my guns when I got it on an interim role in 2018 when we were in terrible shape and we had players who didn’t want to be there. They were just picking up paycheques.

“Austin Healey told me this was really bad. But I was told I was going to be backed. But that wasn’t necessarily the case.

“I was told to just worry about performances, but there was so much mud in the water all around me, it was difficult to focus.

“We were in a relegation battle and worked very hard not to get relegated, which was probably an achievement given all the circumstances.

“And then the following season, we were doing well before Covid struck and then there’s more squad upheaval. I knew it was a poisoned chalice. I guess I trusted people too much. I had people trying to help me, but ultimately, they were undermining me.

“It wasn’t enjoyable at the end. The pressure on every game, worrying about the referee, injuries, trends. It took me a few months to enjoy rugby again. Because I still love the game.”

Aside from welcoming a baby daughter, he has engaged in some consultancy work and also occupied his time working with the foundation set up by his dear friend and team-mate Matt Hampson, the prop left paralysed from the neck down after a training ground accident in 2005.

He has also done some TV work, but since it slammed shut behind him, he is yet to darken the door of Welford Road, a famous, welcoming old ground but a place charred by a corrosive culture this past decade.

He did receive a tentative emailed invite to return but when he sought to follow it up, no reply came. And though he had the foresight to draft in Borthwick, the man leading the club’s revival, the pair have not spoken since. He remains beloved by many at his old stomping ground, though.

“Personally, he’s a friend,” current captain Ellis Genge said this week, reminding us that Murphy led Leicester to their last silverware, the LV Trophy in 2017.

“I loved him to bits. He was given a sinking ship, so to speak, and with Covid, he wasn’t able to resurrect it.”

It’s an opinion shared by many in a city where the rugby team is even more beloved than their soccer brethren; they too once recovered from relegation strife to win a famous league title after removing a boss.

If the Tigers do so, Murphy will watch from afar. He is open to returning to rugby despite being deeply wounded by recent experience.

“I’ll do the best job I can do to build a foundation that this club can be proud of down the line,” he told us three years ago.

Now riding high, with England stars hewn from those he promoted, the club has risen from the flames. Murphy hopes that someday he can, too.

“The rewards are being reaped now. I’d definitely have a look at another role. I love rugby and coaching teams.

“And I’m proud of the good work coming to fruition now, given where they were before we took over.”

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