AN IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW WITH BRIAN MURPHY: FINDING THE LIGHT AFTER HIS DARKEST OF DAYS
- Irish coach taken to the brink as pressures of the game and online abuse left him in despair
- Bravely opens up on the night he hit rock bottom
- Found redemption in guiding New Zealand’s Onehunga Mangere United to title win
- Success has landed him full-time post with Magpies Crusaders in Australia
- Hails sports psychologist and fear coach for work in helping him rebuild
Note: this article contains mention of suicide and other sensitive topics related to mental health.
BRIAN MURPHY couldn't see a way out, football had taken him to his darkest place.
He tried to take his own life.
Today the 39-year-old Irishman is riding high as the newly appointed Head Coach of Magpies Crusaders United in Australia's Queensland Premier League.
Three years ago, though, he was at his lowest ebb.
The former Kilkenny City forward had opted to take the reins at Auckland club Fencibles United in New Zealand's Northern Region Division Two.
Lured by the challenge of the chance to be the boss, the rookie coach took the job without the guarantee of his own backroom staff he could trust around him.
Looking back now, he knows that was a major mistake.
The club was in crisis, the dressing-room was a poisonous mess with players trying to control every detail of how the squad worked.
Brian had thrown himself into the fire - and he got burned. Badly.
What follows is painful reading yet it is a story that courageous coach Murphy feels needs to be told.
Tears filled his eyes as he recounted that wretched night and he shuddered: "I hit rock bottom.
"I'm not afraid to talk about mental health in sport because I think more needs to be done for coaches on this issue.
"My story is that we were losing games and I was getting dreadful abuse on social media, my family were also getting stick.
"My parents were over from Ireland on holiday following us around for the games.
"I had a daughter and a wife and I was going to end it all because of what was being said about me. Irish this, Paddy that.
"It was not the way I had been brought up and I couldn't cope with the abuse I was taking.
"The level of it was just horrible and my parents found me after I had taken an overdose of pills."
Now, in December 2021, Brian is a rising star in Oceanic coaching after guiding Kiwi club Onehunga Mangere United to their first title in 22 YEARS.
That memorable triumph has anded him the dream full-time switch to a higher level of the game in Australia with Magpies Crusaders.
Back in 2018, though, Murphy, for all his academic prowess as a gifted educator in his day job, cut an uncertain figure in football terms.
He was still coming to terms with retirement from playing and had just started to take his first real steps into coaching.
Brian reflected: "I took the job as Head Coach of Fencibles, where I had worked before as an assistant, and I decided to try to get a lot of the toxicity out of the club.
"Things got worse when I tried to remove those toxic players from the environment.
"I guess you can do all the coaching courses or badges you want but they don't prepare you for things like that.
''The abuse mostly came from some players and keyboard warriors.
"Look, I don't blame the players and I guess that's why I've become a more player-centred coach.
"I've also stopped taking the advice of the wrong people and started surrounding myself with good people.
"I wanted to replace what we had with a younger side who played an entertaining brand of football and in the first game we were two down.
"Then we came back to be winning 3-2 but lost it 4-3 in the last minute.
"We were a little naïve and we lost the next three games late on. We were close but then the hatred on social media started to take its toll.
"My dad knew the game from back home and he couldn't believe the sort of stick I was getting.
"There were players phoning me at 2.30am to dish out abuse when they were out drunk.
"Looking back, my big mistake at Fencibles was that I was not allowed to bring in my own backroom team and the people I wanted. That's when the alarm bells should have gone off.
"I was too excited with the Head Coach offer, though, I just wanted to get started and I didn't surround myself with good people.
"As a result I got into such a dark and depressed place that I tried to take my own life."
Emigrating to the other side of the world from his Irish roots has been life-changing for Brian, his wife and their now two young daughters.
Yet he found that often unseen side to working as a foreign coach in a job that was coveted by locals in his new homeland.
And he stressed: "New Zealand has Tall Poppy Syndrome in football at times, they want to cut down people who are successful and it upsets me.
"I feel some of the hate I faced was because I am not a Kiwi but I went to such a dark place.
"It had started to get really bad, we got torn apart 4-1 in the fifth game and I went into the dressing-room and told the players I was stepping back.
"I was doing that for my own well-being because I felt I was banging my head against a brick wall.
"Some said it was a brave decision to walk away but the abuse I get for that decision still hurts me.
"Looking back I didn't do my due diligence when I returned for a second spell there. I didn't appreciate just how toxic it was."
From darkness to light, from hatred to hope, from recrimination to redemption.
Brian battled back from the toughest of times and last season found an uplifting new chapter in his football story at a club who play at the foot of a volcanic mountain.
When Murphy went for the interview to become the new Head Coach of Onehunga Mangere United he was welcomed with open arms.
A smile lit up his face and he recalled: "There were committee members and supporters there at my interview, 12 in total, and I just had a really good feeling from the start.
"It was a beautiful crop of players and they wanted to learn and grow.
"It's the first time I have gone into a club and felt that there were no politics involved whatsoever.
"Funnily enough, our first game in the 2021 season was against Fencibles and it was one that removed a huge weight off my shoulders.
"It's funny how football works, swings and roundabouts. I know that there will be more ups and downs in my coaching career but the difference now is the experiences I've had will help me in the future.
"At Onehunga, I brought in Dom Vettise, who is one of New Zealand's top sports psychologists, to add to our staff and we decided together as a group where we would set our accountability and our values.
"The players bought into it and I felt I earned their respect. I put together a seven-week pre-season programme and we flew out of the blocks.
"We started with six games unbeaten and even when we did hit a sticky patch during the season we revisited our values, we reset and we went again.
"In the end I would be in tears when I explained I had to leave at the end of the season, they had made both myself and my family feel so welcome."
Murphy is a different coach now than the one driven to the edge back in 2018.
The work he has done with the likes of Vettise and former English professional footballer Drewe Broughton - who now helps coaches, athletes and top business figures conquer their fears - have helped him grow mentally strong.
Brian reasoned: ''I just didn't know how to deal with what happened to me at Fencibles at the time.
"Now I have the skillset and the tools to help due to the work I have done with Dom and Drewe. I had to surrender and hit rock bottom to truly understand who I am as a person.
"It took a lot of courage to walk away from Fencibles and it took even more courage to come back into the game due to the fear of failure again.
"Yet I believe that all the bad experiences I have had both as a player and a coach helped me last season.
"When we were struggling and had one win and three draws in four games then that was where the tough times at Fencibles United helped me.
"I drew on the skills I have developed and I was able to help the team to get through it.
"Being top of the league is a different pressure from losing games and I learned that I could live with both of those challenges now.
"Yet there were also times when I felt like someone was looking down on us because when we faltered other teams did too.
"Little things were going for us. We were 3-0 down at half-time at Franklin and their players were shouting: 'Who are ya?' at us on the way down the tunnel.
"It was really disrespectful and it was the wrong thing to do. We got it back to 3-3 then went to sleep again and it was 5-3 to them.
"It's then I think that our true character was shown, they had a penalty to go 6-3 up and our third choice keeper saved it.
"We came back to draw the game 5-5 with TEN MEN and that point kept us top of the table.
"It was my first title as a Head Coach and it will always be special as it was Onehunga Mangere's first for 22 years.
"In the 100 years of the club's existence the mantra, because of where they play on the side of a volcano, is to protect the mountain and we did that.
"It was a wonderful season and my decision-making seemed easy to me because of the things that hadn't gone well in my past.
"You have to go through trials and tribulations to progress. Onehunga Mangere will always be my football home in New Zealand.
"Without them giving me the opportunity the door to the Magpies Crusaders job would never have opened."
The influences of Vettise and Broughton are prevalent in the make-up of Murphy the coach now.
He has examined his own journey in football deeply and asked himself why he didn't quite hit the heights he felt he could have as a starry-eyed kid growing up playing in Ireland.
Brian pointed out: "The people I have worked with have helped me realise that I cared TOO MUCH as a player and it was detrimental to me.
"I am driven and I love the game so much but I have recognised now that even the bad experiences teach you good lessons in this game.
"I have learned to block out the noise and I've worked with sport psychologists to help me become a more player-centric coach.
"I want to mix the psychology with the technical side and help improve them.
"Now I am a coach I feel all the things that have happened to me will benefit those I work with.
"There are players in the leagues I coach in chasing the coin who need to remember why they started playing football in the first place."
Brian Murphy is in a better place in his life now.
On January 6, 2022, he will arrive in Oz ready to rock for the start of Magpies Crusaders' season in February and desperate to mastermind another title win.
Yet he confessed: "I am smiling now but there have been awful times that I have had to get through to get here.
"I don't think there is enough done for coaches in this area of mental health and I still have my ups and downs.
"I encourage anyone feeling the pressures of life or feeling bullied within their lives or in their workplace to seek out the support they need.
"As a close colleague said to me recently you have got to take the opportunities in front of you, as every opportunity good or bad will lead to many more.
"It's just so key to have good people around you in football because people don't know the pressures and depression that can hit you.
"I was willing to go and get help and people like Dom and Drewe have been unbelievable with me.
"So now if I get to the end of this coaching journey and they ask what I want on my tombstone then it will say: 'He cared.'"
BRIAN MURPHY ON THE SERVICE HE RECEIVED FROM SPORT CAREERS AGENCY
"When clubs see my Sport Careers Agency CV there is no doubt that it helps me. It is slick and professional.
"It was a longer process than I originally thought it would be because of COVID-19 lockdowns and I wanted it to have more depth.
"So I asked Piero and the staff to wait and they were patient in the compilation. Luckily, we won a title with Onehunga Mangere United in New Zealand so it looks a little better now!"
DO YOU NEED GUIDANCE ON THE ISSUES ADDRESSED IN BRIAN'S STORY?
Please contact emergency services if you are in need of immediate assistance. If you need guidance on the issues covered in Brian Murphy's soul-searching interview, there are many organisations who can help:
- The Samaritans are a 24 hour confidential, listening service providing emotional support for anyone in crisis. Call 116 123 (free) or visit their website
- CALM offers confidential, anonymous and free support. Call 0800 58 58 58 (free, open 7 days a week from 5pm to midnight) or visit their website
- Papyrus is a national confidential helpline for anyone under 35 who is at risk of suicide, or anyone worried about a young person at risk of suicide. The helpline is open 9am until midnight, every day of the year. Call 0800 068 41 41, text 07860 039 967, or visit their website
Brian Murphy was helped by sports psychologist Dom Vettise and Fear Coach Drewe Broughton. To read more about their work: