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There's life in the old Dog yet

Date

Matt Murnane

Bulldog spirit: Robert Murphy has never considered switching clubs in search of a premiership.

Bulldog spirit: Robert Murphy has never considered switching clubs in search of a premiership. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

ROBERT Murphy's skills and cool head would fit easily into any of the teams that finished in the top four last year.

And after giving 13 years of high-class service to the Western Bulldogs, few would have blamed him for chasing a premiership when he was due to come out of contract at the end of next year as an unrestricted free agent.

Yet as Murphy strolled into the office of football manager James Fantasia for an informal chat about extending his contract beyond next year - no suits or ties required - the thought of leaving the kennel never crossed his mind.

''I've been asked a few times, 'Would you ever consider going to a side in that premiership window?' And it just didn't sit well with me to do that,'' the 30-year-old said.

''I'm not going to judge people who have done it - good luck to them. But it's just not for me. The Bulldogs are my footy club and part of who I am and it means more to me to help the Bulldogs. If it's not me [who wins a premiership], well, that's just the way it goes. But I'm going to put my energy into helping the Bulldogs win their next one.''

It is a situation that several veterans without a premiership medal have faced since the introduction of free agency and the accompanying change in mindset.

After agreeing to a contract extension until the end of 2014, Murphy will be 32 and nearing, if not past, 270 games by the time 2015 rolls around. So, could Murphy play on past 2014? The former All-Australian finished sixth in the club's best and fairest in 2012 and second the year before.

His legs are fresh, and they have a spring that still allows him to bounce out of half-back and deliver the ball with precision in his role as the Dogs' defensive quarterback.

''I think I've still got a bit to offer, but it could all change. I remember driving to a game and thinking, 'I've played 100-and-something games, I could end up playing a lot of footy,' and I ended up doing my knee that night. So it can change like that,'' Murphy said, clicking his fingers.

Part of keeping Murphy energised at 30 is likely to be a ''shake-up'' in his on-field duties.

Bulldogs coach Brendan McCartney has told him that he wants to use him more as a forward next season, a back-to-the-future change for the veteran, who made his first big impact as a play-making, lead-up marking player and clever goalkicker.

As the Dogs slumped to the bottom of the AFL in terms of converting forward 50 entries into goals last year, supporters and a few commentators pushed to have Murphy moved forward.

However, injuries to the Dogs other defensive planks and McCartney's desire to keep the back six as settled as possible in his first year meant Murphy stayed put.

''I think the longer I'm out of the forward line the better forward-line player I was, in the eyes of the supporters,'' Murphy said.

''I'm not sure if I'll be a permanent forward … but I think you will see up there a fair bit, probably more than the back-line.''

Another point worth mentioning is that Murphy is fit. He has missed just six games in the past three years and enjoys pre-seasons now more than he ever did.

In fact, the thrill of playing is as powerful as it has ever been. And perhaps that is the biggest reason why Murphy would never entertain deserting the Dogs for a greater chance of winning a flag elsewhere.

After getting so close with preliminary finals losses in 2008, '09 and '10, there is a perception that some of the Dogs' more experienced players have missed their chance, and the battle to find satisfaction without that chance will consume the rest of their careers.

''When you are an AFL footballer, there is always something important to play for,'' Murphy said. ''Those three or four years - and I don't really want to talk about it because that is done and dusted - but when you are in that premiership mode it really is quite exhilarating and it's a big part of what you play for.

''But other times you get to the end of the season and you are 15th and you are playing against 13th, and you read in the paper that the game meant nothing.

''I just can't have that at all. It's a game of AFL footy and it's a privilege. It is still a privilege every time, and even just training, it never feels stale to me.''

Murphy is reluctant to make any predictions about the Dogs in 2013, but he does admit the players were ''embarrassed'' by their 2012 finished - with the Dogs losing their last 11 games by an average of 10 goals to finish 15th.

''I know that we will improve. And being one of the older guys, I take a lot of heart out of the younger generation, the guys who are 20 or 21, getting another year older,'' he said.

''There is always a summer when boys become men and I can sort of see that happening with a few of those guys.''

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