Downstairs in the Twickenham dressing room, Geordan Murphy had a winner's medal and the man of the match award and standing outside the Good Health Bar on the first floor of the West Stand, the Leicester Tigers captain was sporting another trophy from Saturday evening's dogfight of a Guinness Premiership final. Underneath his left eye was the rising profile of a shiner.
"I got a scratch on my eyeball, so it's pretty sore," Murphy confessed. "I couldn't really see out of my left eye for most of the game after that. I knew I wasn't 100 per cent but I didn't want to come off." It was a good job for the Tigers that their full-back and captain stayed on the field. With his one good eye, his bundle of enduring natural talent, his buccaneering all-action style and his bucketful of Irish grit, Murphy played a true captain's innings in the victory that secured an eighth English championship crown for the Manchester United of the rugby union game.
In his youth the one-time triallist with West Bromwich Albion was dubbed "the George Best of rugby" by Dean Richards. At 31, in his 12th and testimonial season as a Tiger, Murphy is becoming more of a Bryan Robson figure, Leicester's Captain Marvel.
The Irishman who not so very long ago was being deemed a little too flaky for national service by Eddie O'Sullivan might have seemed a curious choice for team-leading duties at a club accustomed to teak-hardened totems of the pack in the role – Richards, Martin Johnson, Martin Corry – but Richard Cockerill has made some shrewd calls in his five months in charge of playing affairs at Welford Road. Entrusting the captaincy duties to Murphy at the start of April has certainly paid dividends. As Cockerill, the Tigers' director of rugby, reflected in the aftermath on Saturday: "Geordan Murphy's been fantastic for us. The captaincy has made him an even better player, I think."
That much was evident from start to finish in Leicester's Twickenham triumph. There was an audacious Harlem Globetrotters-style pass between the legs to launch one early counter-attack and the injection of line-breaking momentum at the merest whiff of an offensive opportunity. Then there was the Herculean defensive work, such as the smart interventions that twice prevented Delon Armitage from applying scoring touches. That Murphy played on for an hour after suffering a poke in the eye for some last ditch defensive heroics spoke volumes for his character. Ditto his stepping aside to allow the retiring Corry the honour of lifting the trophy.
Having hoofed the ball high into the stands to seal his country's historic Grand Slam in Cardiff in March and seen off a spirited Exiles' challenge on Saturday, Leicester's Captain Fantastic has one more date with destiny before the chapter closes on this momentous season for all things Irish in the oval-balled game. Next Saturday the Dubliner will be leader of the opposition when Leinster roll up at Murrayfield with the Heineken Cup on the line.
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