Barry Hall wishes he’d kept his “nose clean” so he could have played 300 AFL games.
The former Saint, Swan and Bulldog fell 11 matches short, and would have got there if not for several suspensions.
It gives Hall a unique perspective on Bob Murphy, the much-loved Western Bulldogs veteran who plays for the 300th time on Saturday afternoon.
“He’s relatable, he’s not a controversial, dirty player,” Hall told The New Daily.
“He’s a player you just can’t hate, even if you’re playing against him. I’d like to know his secret!”
These days, Murphy’s appeal goes far beyond the Bulldogs.
Initially known as a skilful footballer, Murphy’s insightful yet unpretentious columns in The Age showed him to be quite the wordsmith.
They also significantly raised his profile, and if it was his turn of phrase and passion for football that highlighted his writing, it was his quirky sense of humour that dominated what would become regular television appearances on Fox Footy’s AFL 360.
Sidelined last year with a serious knee injury, club captain Murphy had to watch on as the Bulldogs ended a 62-year premiership drought on the back of a stunning finals campaign.
His selfless conduct throughout only enhanced the legend.
And Hall says that what you see is what you get with the 34-year-old.
“Before I knew him, I thought ‘what a good fella’ … then I met him and thought ‘he’s all that and a bit more’,” he said.
“He’s a good guy… everyone loves him and everyone can relate to him.
“Then when you meet him in real life, it adds to it, because he doesn’t put on an act, he really is like that.”
Andrew Gigacz, who literally wrote the book on the Bulldogs’ 2016 premiership – Against The Odds – believes Murphy’s behaviour in the week of his 300th game says it all.
“Bob has never, in my mind, elevated himself above the fans,” he told The New Daily.
“To him, the fans and players may have different roles, but they are equals at all times.
“He said he wanted to use it [300 games] as a landmark to thank the people, the fans.
“Rather than seeing it as a milestone game where we acknowledge all he’s done and thank him for it, he’s turned it back the other way!”
It’s not just Bulldogs fans who love Bob.
Cats tragic and writer Susie Giese says when Murphy talks footy, “he speaks from the heart and sounds like a fan”.
“He’s not just the heart and soul of the Bulldogs, but of the game itself,” she said.
Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge says Murphy is a “unique man” who is “emotional, empathetic, spiritual”.
These qualities made him the perfect captain, the perfect man to steer the Bulldogs towards success after an incredibly turbulent 2014 in which they lost their coach [Brendan McCartney], their captain [Ryan Griffen] and their Brownlow Medal-winning midfielder [Adam Cooney].
Hall says Murphy is a tremendously adaptable footballer, but it is his personal qualities, such as his loyalty, that have drawn the outpouring of goodwill in the football world this week.
Perhaps the reason Murphy is so relatable to fans is because he remains one himself.
His only request for his big match, against the Brisbane Lions at Etihad Stadium, was for the jumpers to feature the collars worn by his 1990s heroes, when he fell in love with footy as a boy.
“I’ve tried to look at it [this week] all through the lens of how I was when I was 12,” he said on AFL 360.
“How fortunate I would have felt at that age [to think that I would] still be playing [at 34]. Kids from Warragul didn’t think like that.”
Kleenex Ambassador Barry Hall spoke to The New Daily as part of his role as a ‘Dadvocate’ for Autism Awareness Australia. For more information, click here.