At the 1999 AFL National Draft, the Western Bulldogs - who had finished the year inside the top four, but had been bundled out of the finals series in straight sets - held the 13th overall pick of a draft that had boasted talent such as Matthew Pavlich, Joel Corey, Luke McPharlin and Darren Glass. The Bulldogs would use their first draft pick on a skinny lad from Warragul by the name of Robert Murphy. It was the draft that saw the Bulldogs also pick up the likes of Daniel Giansiracusa, Mitch Hahn, Lindsay Gilbee and Ryan Hargrave - all four of those guys have go on to have very good careers at Whitten Oval.
But how many of you Bulldog supporters can honestly say 17 years after he was drafted, that not only he would dazzle and wow spectators with his silky skills, awesome side-step and incredible decision-making abilities, but he would be on the brink of being just the seventh Bulldog to play 300 games for this club? Ahead of him, sit among some of the greatest names in the history of the Western Bulldogs organisation. The names include: Brad Johnson, Chris Grant, Doug Hawkins, Scott West, Rohan Smith and 'Mr. Football' himself, the great Ted Whitten.
In my eyes, milestone games don't often amount to much, but this coming Saturday afternoon looms as a very momentous and special day for the captain of the Western Bulldogs, as Robert Murphy notches up his 300th career game on Saturday as the Dogs play the Brisbane Lions at Etihad Stadium. For Bob, it's been a long journey to get to such a prestigious milestone, and it certainly hasn't been easy for him to achieve it. He's gone through outstanding individual seasons, and devastating season-ending injuries.
Murphy was the 887th player to debut in the red, white and blue, making his senior debut late in the 2000 AFL premiership season, a round 19 date with Carlton at Princes Park (Now known as Ikon Park). Bob would earn 13 disposals on debut and kicked a crucial goal in the fourth quarter as the Dogs would eke out a three-point win over the second-placed Blues. He would go on to play the next two games, including the Bulldogs' infamous victory over an Essendon outfit that had won its first 20 games of the year.
From there, Murphy became a mainstay in the Western Bulldogs' best 22. His early years saw him play both as a rebounding defender and a dangerous, mid-sized forward that was capable of snagging a goal or two. Just under a year after he made his debut, Bob was awarded a Rising Star nomination for his efforts against St. Kilda in round 16, recording 18 disposals and five rebound 50s off half-back in a 34-point win.
It wasn't until when Rodney Eade took over from the club in 2005 that Bob showed his skills off as an unlikely, yet dangerous, centre half-forward. If he wasn't kicking goals, he would have a factor in setting them up. In Rocket's first season in charge at Whitten Oval, Murphy would record a career high in marks (just under eight marks per game) and register 33 goals for the season, including the only game he would kick more than four goals in a match - a six goal effort against Essendon in round 10. Only Brad Johnson was ahead of him in goals kicked that year - he had kicked 42 for the season.
2006 looked as if he would match his statistics from the previous year. Prior to the round nine clash with Collingwood, Murphy was averaging the same amount of marks, goals and inside 50s in 2006 as he was in 2005. But an ACL injury sustained during the first half of the Friday night game at the MCG. It's no secret that Murphy was considered a vital part of the side back then, but incredibly, the Dogs still managed to play Finals for the first time since and make it to the Semi Finals where they were bundled out by the eventual premiers in West Coast.
Murphy would return from his knee injury in time for Round one of the 2007 Premiership season, in a winning effort against Geelong. His numbers would dip this year as he battled several injury niggles as the season progressed. The form of the Bulldogs that year, would also take a dive, going from finals contenders to a bottom four finish. But that would all change in 2008, when the Dogs shot back up the ladder to finish inside the top four. Murphy kicked 34 goals in a forward line that looked smaller in comparison to the other premiership-contending sides. He would also average career-highs in marks (8.7 marks per game) and inside 50s (5.3 inside 50s per game) and lead the club in goal assists that year. 2008 was also the year that Murphy would represent Victoria in the Hall of Fame Tribute Match.
Whilst he was damaging as a forward, nobody can argue that his best footy lies as a rebounding half-back flanker. His ability to hit targets with either foot as well as ability to make the smartest decisions and create attacks from half-back were first-class. The 2011 season was perhaps the greatest year so far in his career. He averaged over 20 disposals a game for the first time in his career and led the club in rebound 50s, averaging over five per game. His brilliant form off half-back was rewarded with a spot on the half-back flank in the All-Australian team and finished second in the club's best and fairest award, behind another current team mate and good mate Matthew Boyd.
The next few years saw a changing of the guard of sorts, as veteran players would depart in favour for the younger players, as the team began it's rebuild. Out went the likes of Brian Lake, Lindsay Gilbee, Ryan Hargrave, Daniel Cross, Daniel Giansiracusa, Shaun Higgins, Adam Cooney and Ryan Griffen, with Griffen of course, leaving the club in 2014 as the club's captain.
The Dogs needed a new leader going forward, and it just simply had to be Bob. The only other veterans left in this side were Matthew Boyd - who took the captaincy from 2011-13, Dale Morris, Will Minson, all three of those were hitting the wrong side of 30, and then there was Liam Picken, who was 28 at the start of the 2015 season, the next oldest.
Fellow Bulldogs' team mate and superstar midfielder Marcus Bontempelli mentions in his article about his captain in the Herald Sun the other day that Bob approached club president Peter Gordon and said that the time was right for him to be the captain of a club that looked to be in turmoil to the outside eye. 12 months on from a disasterous 2014 off-season, Murphy captained the Bulldogs back to the Finals for the first time since 2010, as the club registered 14 wins for the year.
Murphy formed an incredible tandem with the intercept-marking specialist Easton Wood and both were rewarded with spots on the half-back flanks in the All-Australian team, but it was Bob who was named the captain of this side, such was his influence on his relatively young brigade. If that's not proof enough of how influential of a leader he was, he was named the Captain of the year by the AFL Players Association.
What's made him such a great captain in only such a short period of time? I've always thought that his passion for the game is second to none, his ability to create scoring opportunities off half-back is almost like watching an artist go to work on a sculpture or a painting and has that knack to be a bit of a larrikin at the most appropriate moments, but the most important things is his cool and calm demeanor, his loyalty towards the footy club and his compassion, kindness and humility towards his fellow man, making him one of the AFL's much-loved figures. Anybody who thinks otherwise is either lying through their teeth, or just a simple-minded fool.
When Bob injured his knee in round three last year in the dying seconds against the Hawks, I must admit there was a couple of tears shed, because this was a player I've loved watching since I was only a small child and fearing that might've been his last game, given that he was at 33 years of age and had played 295 games. I'm sure a lot of my fellow supporters felt the same way when he went down in that innocuous contest with Hawthorn's Luke Breust. Whilst Hawthorn would pinch the victory in the last minute, losing the skipper for the year was a bigger loss than the match itself.
But Bob wouldn't let his knee injury deter his influence on the team, He would continue to have a massive presence in the rooms on the team mates that were on the ground. He got behind the stand-in captain Easton Wood during moments when he got a little bit skeptical about taking on the responsibilities as captain and continued to motivate those around him. He could've easily have taken the back seat and watch the side play out the year, but that just wouldn't be Bob Murphy, and it's just a testament of his character and the sort of person he is.
His off-field leadership got often overlooked when it comes to reasons why the Bulldogs went from seventh-place to the premiership in 2016, and it surely would've been hurting him deep inside. But all this didn't go unnoticed to Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge, who was a key factor in the Bulldogs' rapid rise back up the ladder, selflessly gave his Jock McHale medal to Murphy, stating after the Grand Final that he 'deserved this more than anyone', but in a real display of humility, Murphy returned the medal to Beveridge on Sunday morning without much fanfare, stating simply that 'He couldn't keep it'.
By this point time, we all knew that Murphy announced that he would play on in 2017, stating that he has 'unfinished business' to take care of. So far this year, we've seen a bit of Bob both in his natural position at half-back and at his secondary home at half-forward, but the things that have stood out to me so far this year is that he hasn't lost any of his poise, any of his decision-making and any of his credibility.
There's no doubt in my mind that he belongs in the same category as fellow 300-gamers Brad Johnson, Chris Grant and Scott West - players that not only I idolised and grew up with when I started following this club, but show the same loyalty, kindness and humility
Congratulations On 300 Games Bob!!!