During the off-season, League of Ireland champions Dundalk sprung a surprise when they announced the signing of former Watford midfielder and ex-Irish U21 international Sean Murray.
A name familiar to many thanks to his promising start in the game with the Hornets seven years ago, Murray found himself struggling for game time at Danish club Vejle Boldklub, when the call to join the Lilywhites came.
“I was in Denmark,” explained Murray speaking to Pundit Arena.
“They have a split season so they were on their Winter break and I was doing preseason after the break and at the time I wasn’t really playing too much.
“Dundalk called and asked me if I wanted to come over, I was like ‘yes definitely’ because at the time I wasn’t really playing football and I think I’m at the age now where I need to be playing as much as possible.
“They called, I came over and trained for a week, just to see if I would like it and if the club would like me, and I’d say it turned out to be a perfect match. I wanted to come and they wanted to sign me so we got it done as quickly as we could.”
Murray’s impact at the club was immediate. In his first game, he came off the bench and grabbed a tidy equaliser as Dundalk drew against Sligo Rovers.
A month later he scored in the 4-0 win over Waterford. The next week, he opened the scoring against Derry City. “The perfect match” analogy from Murray is proving to be very accurate.
“It’s been great for me to be honest. Obviously, I came in and for the first game we were a bit unlucky with injuries so my start came a bit earlier than I thought but since then I think I’ve pushed on and the team has started to improve as well. We have picked up some good results so confidence is high at the moment.
“I wasn’t expecting to be starting so quickly but I got a goal in that game which kind of took the nerves away a bit and that kick-started my season from there really.”
Enjoying his football and thriving in a winning team, Dundalk is proving to be the ideal destination for Murray to rebuild a career that has been wrought with a terrible mix of injuries and awful luck.
Murray made his Watford debut when he was just 17, and broke into the Watford first team at the age of 18, playing half a season with the Hornets in the Championship, winning their Young Player of the Year award.
He made 49 league appearances over the next two seasons before he’d even reached the age of 21, and as Watford pushed for promotion to the top-flight it looked as though Murray would be an integral part of their side.
Unfortunately for the midfielder, things did not work out as he would have hoped.
“At lot of things happened at once there,” said Murray, of his Watford departure.
“I got injured the year we got promoted. I played quite a bit of the season and then I tore my knee ligaments and was out for nine months. I came back and we were in the Premier League so it was difficult for me to find my place again in the team. They’d gotten a lot of new players in.
“The main factor at Watford was that I got injured and the team were fighting to stay in the Premier League and I had to realise it probably wasn’t the best place for me if I wanted to play football.”
Murray left Watford for an unsuccessful loan spell at Wigan in 2015/2016 where he again found games difficulty to come by. The year after that, on his return to Vicarage Road, Murray made the conscious decision to leave the club he had spent 15 years at, with Swindon in League One the destination.
This time it was a change of manager which robbed Murray of the chance to impress.
“I went out on loan to Wigan for a year. To be honest I didn’t play too much there either.
“I found myself back at Watford for another six months and then I left for Swindon. I played a bit there in League One and I really enjoyed my time there. Halfway through the season I had played over 20 games but then the manager changed and the new manager said I wasn’t going to play.
“From there I went to Colchester and played two full seasons. In short, it was up and down.”
Was it difficult to leave his boyhood club? Of course, explained Murray, but it was a necessary decision with regular football his number one goal.
“It was tough to leave Watford definitely. I was there from the age of seven to the age of 22.
“I spent a long time there, but I could’ve stayed and been comfortable, trained a bit, but I wanted to be playing competitive matches, I had had a feel for it already at Watford so I wanted to go out somewhere and play.”
From Swindon, to Colchester, to Denmark and finally now to Oriel Park, the early signs are that Murray has finally found his feet in the League of Ireland after a difficult few years in the game.
Injuries, managerial changes and a lack of regular game time may have halted his progression in the game but they clearly never affected his ability
Dundalk defender Brian Gartland spoke to Pundit Arena before the season kicked off and praised Murray’s dynamism in the midfield outlining that his ability is “something different” to what he’s seen in the league before.
“He came in training with us for a week and played a pre-season game against Drogheda and he was outstanding. For a player who hasn’t played a game for a while he was outstanding.
“He looked so fit and so quick. He’s been so dynamic in midfield in terms of what he can do. It’s something a bit different to what I’ve seen in terms of players we have and players I’ve seen in the league. It’s exciting for us playing with him.”
Before the start of the campaign, comparisons were made between the signing of Murray and Shamrock Rovers’ signing of former Manchester City midfielder Jack Byrne.
Both players whose young careers, for one reason or another, had stalled with the League of Ireland a chance for them to rebuild and play regular football.
Murray, who has represented Ireland at U17, U19 and U21 level, feels that Byrne’s recent call up is an added incentive for himself and domestic players to continue to impress at their respective clubs.
“Yeah, I think that’s another incentive to do well and play well in this league because you can get a chance.
“Jack Byrne has done really well coming back and I think coaches from the Irish setup were at his game where he played really well against Sligo so you just have to have people there at the right time.
“You never know who’s watching your game so it’s a good incentive.”