Killed me’: Former Roo Tom Murphy’s remarkable revival from AFL scrapheap with Frankston

It took less than a minute for Tom Murphy to be brutally spat out of the AFL system at North Melbourne. Most never make it back from where he’s been, yet hot form in a new position has him pushing for a return, writes PAUL AMY.

By Paul Amy Follow @paulamy375

May 17, 2024

Tom Murphy on the ball for the Frankston Dolphins, the VFL club with whom he has revived his dreams of an AFL return.

Tom Murphy on the ball for the Frankston Dolphins, the VFL club with whom he has revived his dreams of an AFL return.

One day, you’re a league footballer.

The next day, you’re not.

It took Tom Murphy years to reach the AFL.

It took less than a minute for him to be delisted or, as he describes it, “spat out of the system’’.

In the “hub’’ year of 2020, Murphy played in North Melbourne’s last game of the season, against West Coast Eagles at Carrara on a Thursday night. He had 10 possessions in a 15-point loss.

The following day, the defender was called into a meeting with coach Rhyce Shaw and list manager Brady Rawlings.

It was over quickly.

“Yeah, it was a rough year. I played against Gold Coast and thought I played really well and then I got dropped,’’ Murphy says. “I never really got any feedback from the game.

“Three weeks later, all of a sudden they brought me back in on the Thursday night for the West Coast game. I had my exit interview on the Friday morning at 9.15.

“They had a little room at the hotel. I went in there and got told I wasn’t going to be getting a contract and that was it. There was nothing else. I flew out that day and parted ways. In and out, really. It was brutal. Like, bang, it all gets taken away.’’

Murphy was cast aside at the Roos after three years and nine AFL games.

People who noticed his name in local ranks last year, at Somerville, might have assumed he was done with high levels of football. In fact, the move to “Somie’’ reinvigorated his career.

It led him back to VFL club Frankston, where his coach, Jackson Kornberg, is telling recruiters to run an eye over Murphy.

Picture: Getty Images

Picture: Getty Images


Tom Murphy is having a superb season with Frankston Dolphins. And he’s doing it as a midfielder.

He feels like he’s a new player since he was at North Melbourne and scrapping for selection as a defender.

When he left North, Murphy headed to the SANFL, joining West Adelaide, but he returned to Melbourne in 2022 and signed at Frankston. He “really struggled after North’’, he says.

“When you sort of have your dream there … for me, I always put in 100 per cent and I felt like I worked super-hard and did everything I could to get the best out of myself … when I got spat out, it sort of killed me.

“I went to West Adelaide and then I came back and played at Frankston, but I wasn’t really enjoying my footy or feeling myself. I didn’t want to stop, but I thought I’d go back to local footy and enjoy myself again.’’

Murphy returned to Somerville, his junior club, playing alongside his best mate, Mason De Wit. They had last run out together at the Stingrays (De Wit went on to a VFL stint with Box Hill Hawks).

In under-age teams, at the ’Rays and at the ’Roos, Murphy had been a half-back. But at Somerville, he played on the ball – and won a lot of it.

De Wit claimed the club best and fairest, Murphy was runner-up and they were both selected in the team of the year. Murphy says he regained his enjoyment of the game and his ambitions for it.

“It was a great year. It took the stress away and I really started to find a love again for footy.

“I got this urge that I wanted to go back and prove to everyone – well, not everyone else, more myself – that I’m good enough.’’

Tom Murphy (R) celebrates a goal from Frankston VFL teammate Bailey Lambert in 2022. Picture: Kelly Defina/AFL Photos/via Getty Images

Tom Murphy (R) celebrates a goal from Frankston VFL teammate Bailey Lambert in 2022. Picture: Kelly Defina/AFL Photos/via Getty Images

He decided to return to Frankston, and he and new coach Kornberg both liked the idea of him playing in the midfield.

“All through my juniors, I was a half-back. When I was drafted, I was a half-back,’’ Murphy says.

“When I got spat out of the system, I was still a half-back. It was natural to me. But I wanted to sort of bring a different asset to my game. I felt that’s what I lacked back then, that contested side and that physicality side. I just wanted to show I’m capable. My body’s changed and I’m stronger and fitter and I went about it like that at Somerville.

‘’’Jacko’ (Kornberg) wanted me to be in that role too. We’re working together honing my skills and craft … I reckon it suits me.’’

When Frankston played the Northern Bullants in Round 3, Murphy took possession of the ball in the second quarter and in a few paces powered clear of congestion. Legendary Dolphins figure Bryan Mace was watching from outside the social club and, impressed at what he saw, asked for the name of the player in the No. 5 jumper.

Murphy had 30 possessions and eight tackles that night. After six matches, he was averaging 22 disposals for the Dolphins.

When recruiters call him about players, Kornberg invariably makes mention of Murphy.

“He’s been really consistent and powerful. He’s a territory-taker who drives his legs and he’s starting to impact in the front-half too,’’ Kornberg tells CODE Sports. “He’s a great runner and uses the ball well.’’

He makes another point about his leadership-group player: few players drop back to local level, return to the state league and perform at a high standard.

“Usually once you go to local, that’s it. It’s different with him. He’s lived the highs and lows of the AFL and now he’s got the passion back,’’ Kornberg says.

Picture: Getty Images

Picture: Getty Images

Murphy is a carpenter based out of the Docklands. He says he spends a lot of his day thinking about football and he works hard at it too; the midfield requires different skills to half-back.

“I’m putting my head down, trying to have a crack and see where it goes,’’ he says. “I want to keep building on what I’ve done and go even further with it.’’

Of course, he hopes the path further leads to another AFL club.

Murphy remains close with top Kangaroo Luke Davies-Uniacke. They surf together and talk football.

“Luke still believes in me. He feels I should still be in the system, which is nice to hear,’’ Murphy says. “He keeps me going. It’s good.’’

At 26, Murphy probably doesn’t have time on his side. What he does have, according to Frankston midfield coach Tim McGibney, is qualities that set him apart from many VFL players.

“He’s explosive, and the way he finds space, it’s fantastic. He can win the ball in the contest and then work his way through and get to the outside and burst – pretty impressive traits,’’ McGibney says.

“Normally, you’ve got inside players and outside players. I think ‘Murph’ has got both in his trick bag. He’s such a good player and he’s so good to coach. Great kid too, a wonderful person, down to earth. I’d love to see him get another chance.’’

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