AFL Round 7 Adelaide Crows v Collingwood: The rise of small forward Lachie Murphy, social media abuse

Lachie Murphy once worked at Crowmania while training was on. Then, after being signed, he copped it from the fans. But now things are different. He opens up on the journey.

Of all the tattoos on Lachie Murphy’s legs, there are two of particular significance to him.

“The first one I ever got was the Open Men’s B Grade basketball team that I played in, the Kayaks,” he says at Adelaide’s training base at West Lakes.

“Matt Signorello who came to the Crows was in it, my brother Blake, Luke Steve, Kieran, Jarrod and Jack was waving the towels on the bench.

“That was a bit of fun back in high school.”

The other?

“It is on my left hip flexor, it’s of Steven Adams’ signature,” Murphy says.

“I love Steven Adams, I have his signature tattooed on me. For whatever reason I must have thought it was a good idea at the time.

“I had to find a prototype of his signature that he signed for his contract, zoom in, screenshot it and print it off.

“So I had enough time to think about it let’s put it that way.”

If you don’t know who Steven Adams is, he is a New Zealand basketball player who is right now playing with the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA.

The 29-year-old, who stands at 211cm, is one of the more underrated players in the NBA – someone likes to do the dirty work others might not like to and whose efforts can often go unnoticed.

While Murphy, at 174cm, is nearly 40cm shorter and plays a different sport, that’s a similar description you could use for the 24-year-old increasingly important Crows small forward.

“I pride myself on doing the little things that necessarily don’t show up on the stat sheet,” Murphy says.

“So if we are winning I’m happy, and the coaches are happy, I don’t care what the stats say as long as I’m playing all right.”

However, not all Crows fans have shared this view of Murphy in the past.

“There were question marks around Murph last year, should he be in the side,” Crows senior coach Matthew Nicks says.

“But it is hard to put a number on what he brings and does from an organisational point of view on the field.

“Getting guys where they need to be, covering off for other guys when they aren’t there.

“He works both ways, both offence and defence and I feel like he has really rounded out his game.”

Murphy himself has learnt to deal with this.

“I understand my deficiencies at times can be quite frustrating for fans, for coaches and for myself,” he says.

“When I’m not delivering and it is costing us six points if I am not doing my job in front of goals for example.

“In the pre-season I was in the twos for the majority of it, but I just pride myself on playing my role and doing everything I can to make this side win.

“Yeah at the end of the day if I am playing my role and we are winning it makes it very hard for Nicksy to not play me.

“Probably when I was a bit younger it was a bit disheartening, I had a fair bit of abuse on social media which was pretty hard to ignore.

“But as I have matured and gotten older I’ve realised that the only thing that matters is if I am playing my role for the team.

“Nicksy has stuck by me for a couple of years now, he sees the value and merit in what I bring to the team and at the end of the day I’ve got to a point mentally where that is all I care about.

“So when Nicksy puts my magnet on the board it shows he values what I bring to the team, and that is what all that matters to me.”

Being different

Murphy’s magnet was not on the board for the Crows season opener against GWS.

He made his first appearance for the year against Richmond a week later and has been an important part in the Crows winning four games in a row for the first time since 2019.

In his five games to date, Murphy’s disposals are up from 12.5 in 2022 to 15.2 in 2023, an increase of 22 per cent.

His score assists have risen a whopping 200 per cent from 0.8 to 2.4, his marks 64 per cent from 2.2 to 3.6, his score involvements 33 per cent from 4.5 to six and uncontested possessions 29 per cent from seven to nine.

Murphy’s role hasn’t changed all that much since he debuted in 2018.

But the difference is now that he isn’t really expected or even required to kick a goal or two a game now that the Crows have Izak Rankine and Josh Rachele as smaller forwards.

It allows Murphy to focus on the other jobs.

“Stuff like smothers, also I’ve played enough footy now to be a bit of a leader in that front half when Tex (Taylor Walker) is off the ground,” he says.

“So a lot of talking, a lot of stuff off camera to help us step up.

“When it is my time to putting my body on the line, I know I am extremely small in stature but I like to think if I can halve the contest – very rarely do I mark it – and get it to ground.

“There are also times during the game where representation down the line (is needed) and that is my role at that point.

“So if I can put my body on the line and then help the defenders with that sort of stuff, we know how powerful sides are offensively so if I can give the defenders and midfielders a bit of a chop-out with that I’ll jump on a footy there.

“If that is what I have to do I’ll have to do it.”

Nicks says Murphy “really rounds us off”.

“We have a lot of guys ahead of the ball who have some really high level talent, not saying Murph doesn’t but he brings something different to those guys,” he says.

“That is the mix, that is balance, that is the cohesion we need.

“We’d love to have 18 Izak Rankines running around but one of them has to take the ruck.”

If Nicks had a team of 17 Izak Rankines and one Lachie Murphy then the answer would be simple.

“If Nicksy asked me to play ruck I would give it a crack,” Murphy said.

On Sunday, Murphy could have a task potentially as daunting, trying to stop Collingwood young gun Nick Daicos from continuing to rack up the footy.

“He is arguably the best player in the game at the moment, but yeah I could do it,” Murphy says.

Repressing the fear

An AFL player putting their body on the line week on week isn’t all that remarkable.

But it is different when it comes to Murphy.

By his own admission, he was only millimetres from never being able to walk again.

The danger of paralysis, or even worse, is still there when he takes to the field.

After waking up in agony in December 2021, he couldn’t move his neck, Murphy was told he would need spinal cord surgery.

He had some incidents in his career, an MRI found a bulging disc in his neck on one occasion, but it was usually manageable come the end of the season.

But on this occasion, his disc had essentially fallen out of the spine and was just laying on a nerve.

He was warned that people had died from the surgery, or, in some cases, had lost feeling in their legs from it.

For eight weeks post-operation, he couldn’t run or lift weights.

He returned to AFL action in the famous Round 3 Showdown, where he was caught high by Sam Mayes – with Jordan Dawson taking the game-winning kick as Murphy wondered whether he might have suffered another serious neck injury.

This year it has been good, but in 2022 it was something that weighed on Murphy quite a bit.

“I had a good pre-season with it this year, last year I reckon I did about 15 or 20 per cent,” he says.

“To be honest last year was the toughest of my career both mentally and physically.

“There wasn’t a lot of training, it was more about recovery and trying to get up for the weekend after.

“I’ve got great support inside the footy club to get it right physically and the amount of work that has been done to get my neck to a level where I can play at the highest level.

“I doubted whether that would be a realistic outcome, which is quite scary at times.”

But Murphy can repress this fear when he runs out onto the field.

“I’m sort of locked in where I don’t really have too much regard for it,” he says.

“Mum won’t like me saying that.

“It is definitely a week to week thing, around sleep and pillows stuff that I didn’t really think was a big deal.

“Once I’m getting on the ground if I’m not putting my body in situations where I can get hurt I’m probably not that much value to the team.

“So I know that I have to do it and that is a part of it.”

From Crowmania to the middle

When things aren’t going all that well for Murphy he does take some time to reflect on how he has made it to 81 games for the Crows.

After being passed over in his draft year Murphy – who was the Northern Knights best and fairest in their 2016 TAC Cup campaign – moved to South Australia to join Adelaide’s SANFL development squad.

“A 51 ATAR didn’t help so I don’t think I would be going into a career that would bring me as much enjoyment as AFL would so I decided that I would give it a massive crack,” he says.

This meant him getting a job as a shop assistant at the club’s Crowmania store, with the occasional training session with the Adelaide squad.

“There were a lot of Eddie Betts, a lot of Tex Walker badges, they were flying out the door,” he says of his time in the club store.

“I was also able to train with the boys once a week and it was a little bit funny I got really close with the first year boys at the time (Elliott) Himmelberg, (Ben) Davis, (Ben) Jarman and (Matthew) Signorello.

“So we would get to West Lakes and they would go to training and I would go and park the car and go into the shop and work 9-5.

“It was almost a bit of a tease for a bit of it.”

The 38th pick of the 2018 rookie draft, who has had to overcome more than most, is now hoping to get his name on a Crows locker with just 19 more games needed to reach the 100 mark.

“I think it (100 games) would mean more to me than I daresay others,” he says.

“I have flirted with it over the last couple of years that it could be a realistic chance for me.

“When I missed out on the draft I didn’t know where I was going, my career was probably done before it started.

“I do take things week by week, but I do find myself thinking it would be pretty special to have my name on a locker at this footy club.

“It would mean a lot to me.”

Originally published as AFL Round 7 Adelaide Crows v Collingwood: All the news, action and fallout from Adelaide Oval

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