By John Donnachie / asbpremiership.co.nz
CHRISTCHURCH - Dragons midfielder Joe Murray will soon celebrate his 35th birthday but there is still plenty of fire in the belly of the football nomad.
Indeed- it was via his stomach- the veteran claimed his first goal of the season in the recent record equalling 9-1 rout of Youngheart Manawatu.
The genial Murray laughs at the freak nature of his goal from a team-mate's goal-bound shot, but is happy to take it all the same. “I don't think Darren White was too happy with me taking the goal off him. But I'm sure he will score more this season,” said Murray.
Murray, now in his third season as a Canterbury Dragon, has enjoyed a variety of clubs and destinations throughout his footballing travels since his days as a Merseyside youth, aspiring to play for his beloved Liverpool FC.
The air traffic controller had spells in the English, Scottish and Irish non-leagues, interspersed with a period in the American universities system.
He finds the role of elder statesman, and the generation gap, as a natural progression and something that he can't escape from.
“On away trips recently with Dan(Terris) not there, I've realised I'm a lot older than most of the boys – [especially] when you look at some of the music coming out of the their ipods," he said.
Murray though sees the benefits of being older and is happy to pass on his wisdom.
Murray said: “I don't have to do so much running now, and I find I'm spending more time just sitting back on the field talking to the boys.”
He views Canterbury's recent surge into joint second on the ASB Premiership table, as a direct result of more competition for places in the Dragons line-up.
“In the past Canterbury teams pretty much picked themselves with maybe nine out of the eleven. But now there is more experience, and lots more hunger, with boys knocking on the door from the Asia /Pacific Academy- so for the likes of myself, there is no resting on the laurels," he added.
The midfield enforcer is also finding he is having to adapt his game to meet the changes in role of the ball-winning midfielder in the modern era.
“The game has definitely changed. It's a shame that good strong tackling is going out of the game. The game is losing those skills. Here in New Zealand it has never been really physical. And with the new playing surfaces no one really does sliding tackles anymore.”
Murray says representing the New Zealand U-23 has given him his biggest satisfaction to date. Playing in front of 45,000 people in Japan alongside All Whites great Ryan Nelsen was a special memory.
And he is hopeful Canterbury United can make the play-offs and finally achieve the coveted O League spot this season.
“If we are going to do it, this is probably our best chance - this could be our year,” said Murray.
The Dragons continue that particular quest when they host a fast improving and equally ambitious Hawke's Bay on Saturday.
Three points could see the red and blacks go top depending on the outcome of the Auckland derby.
But the visitors are dangerous opponents, they stunned a previously unbeaten Dragons 3-0 at Napier, back in November.
They also have two games in hand.
Subsequently Dragons coach, Keith Braithwaite, expects a difficult encounter.
“It's a must win game for us. And it is a must win for them too. It will be a huge game," he said.
But Braithwaite is quietly confident the Dragons can maintain their 100 percent record at home this season.
“We don't want to get to far ahead of ourselves. But I'm sure if we hit our straps we will get the result we want," he said.
Midfielder Darren White and forward Andrew Barton have both niggles but should be fine. Cole Peverley comes back from suspension, while Joe Murray is also available for selection.
Match kicks off at 3pm ASB Football Park, Christchurch on Saturday.
Hawke's Bay United
Cole PEVERLEY returns to action after serving suspension.
Leon BIRNIE replaces the suspended Dale HIGHAM in the match day squad.
Andy BARTON (groin strain) and Dan TERRIS (Achilles) are missing due to injury while Erik PANZER and Joe MURRAY drop out of the squad.
Matt GOULD (shoulder) and Rudi BAUERFIEND (broken arm) remain on the injury list.
Adam HIGHFIELD will make his 55th ASB Premiership career appearance, if selected.
Coach Chris GREATHOLDER has a tough double header and names an enlarged squad with two matches in three days that could define the Bay’s ASB Premiership season.
Canterbury United haven’t beaten Hawke’s Bay United at home since 2007-08 when goals by Rhodri PAYNE and Ryan FAICHNIE guided the Dragons to a 2-1 victory.
Hawke’s Bay United have won two, drawn one and lost one of their previous four visits to Christchurch and includes a 4-0 thumping on Canterbury in 2009. Leon BIRNIE is set to make his 66th ASB Premiership career appearance. He has scored 29 goals.
ASB Premiership - Round 10
Hawke's Bay United
1- Tom BATTY (GK)
1- Richard GILLESPIE (GK)
3- Mark JOHNSTON
2- Fergus NEIL
4- Nick WORTLEBOER
3- Alex BARLOW
5- Tom SCHWARZ
4- Stu WILSON
6- Geoff MacINTYRE
5- Bill ROBERTSON (c)
7- Darren WHITE
6- Stephen HINDMARCH
8- Aaron CLAPHAM
7- Matt HASTINGS
9- George SLEFENDORFAS
8- Adam COWAN
10- Russell KAMO
10- Sam MARGETTS
13- Daniel GLOZIER
11- Conor TINNION
14- Josh SMITH
14- Danny WILSON
15- Julyan COLLETT
16- Reilly O'MEAGHER
17- Cole PEVERLEY
17- Tom BISS
20- Ken YAMAMOTO
18- Hamish WATSON
22- Adam HIGHFIELD (GK)
20- Leon BIRNIE
23- Te Atawhai HUDSON-WIHONGI
21- Josh MARGETTS
22- Jerome GROOT
26- Shaun PETA (GK)
- enlarged squad named for double header/subject to change