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Hard work not always non-negotiable among soccer's elite

Republic of Ireland's Daryl Murphy (left) has reaped the rewards of hard graft

DARYL Murphy towered over the microphones in the mixed zone in Cardiff City Stadium.

The Republic of Ireland striker had put in two unbelievable shifts over a three-day period to help the side secure a World Cup play-off berth.

He scored the two goals that sank Moldova on the Friday night in Dublin and he ran himself into the ground in Ireland's famous 1-0 win over Wales in Cardiff the following Monday night.

In the modern game, the lone striker's role isn't an easy one to pull off.

Not only is it energy-sapping, it can be a soul-destroying job.

It's particularly difficult in Martin O'Neill's Republic of Ireland team because you're expected to get on the end of your own flick-ons.

The most admirable aspect of Murphy's game, and indeed any of the Republic of Ireland players, is their insatiable appetite for hard work.

Murphy knew he would be living off scraps in Cardiff and he would spend most of the night chasing lost causes.

But, crucially, his head never dropped.

When you thought he was running on empty, he would summon the energy from somewhere to make another 30 metre run just to close down a Welsh defender.

The Irish team's sheer work rate and determination is why they will never be out of the game.

Before boarding the team bus, the big bearded striker stopped to talk to reporters and immediately dismissed the notion that he should be warmly applauded for the amount of miles he clocked up on the night.

“Listen, you're a professional footballer,” he said.

“The least thing you can do is run your heart out for 90 minutes. That's the least expected of you as a footballer.

“So if it's one of those games where you're chasing shadows and lost causes and all that, you just need one chance in a game, and it can change everything.

“You could be having the worst game ever and one chance comes along and you take it and you're a hero.

“Strikers, in particular, need to know that.

“They need to work as hard as they can for as long as they can and when they get that chance, take it.”

For as long as there are players like Daryl Murphy prepared to give everything on the pitch, international football has a future.

He has accumulated a mere 31 international caps in 10 years.

“Any Ireland squad I've ever been in, no matter who was in charge – that's the one thing that Ireland has always had: team spirit. We'll never lose that.

“Everyone gives everything they have. We mightn't be the best team in the world, we mightn't have the best players in the world, but you know that the person next to you is going to give everything for that shirt and you can't ask for any more than that.”

Murphy is a journeyman striker, a tough as old boots kind of player who is making a good living from the game at Championship level and understands the value of hard graft.

Now, compare Murphy's attitude to the Chelsea players' during Tuesday night's 3-0 loss to Roma in the group stages of the Champions League.

In many ways, Chelsea sum up the ugliness of top level football.

Capable of winning titles one season - an utter shambles the next. Brilliant one week - awful the next.

This is how Chelsea has rolled for far too long.

There was something rotten about Chelsea's performance in Rome, particularly the second half.

There was a lack of desire, a lack of togetherness. They were a completely rudderless crew.

For Roma's third goal, Cesc Fabregas' sloppy pass to the wing was easily cut out by Aleksandar Kolarov.

Once Fabregas loses possession, there is little or no chance of him retrieving the ball.

And so the ball was ferried to Diego Perotti who beat Thibaut Courtois at his near post from outside the box.

The amount of times the Chelsea players gave away cheap possession was staggering.

Worse, was their lack of appetite in trying to win the ball back.

On another occasion, 11 minutes from time, Kosta Manolas had a free header from seven yards out but was denied by a brilliant reflex save from Courtois.

It was interesting to watch Michy Batshuayi's movement for the cross.

The Chelsea substitute decided not to mark anyone and actually tried to move out of the firing line in case he was implicated in another Roma goal.

Antonio Conte, the Chelsea manager, should show Batshuayi the offending clip and demand an explanation for his abdication of responsibility.

But this is Chelsea. This is how they roll. Talent to burn but they work when the mood takes them.

A few weeks ago, they produced a flawless performance to beat Atletico Madrid in the same competition.

Their display had work-rate, collective responsibility and talent. Always lots of talent.

But talent without work-rate yields inevitable results.

For Chelsea, that was a 3-0 defeat in Rome on Tuesday night.

To suggest that N'Golo Kante's absence through injury is the reason for Chelsea's downward spiral gives the under-performers a get-out.

In every walk of life, you have good and bad professionals.

Some are more talented than others.

In a lot of cases, the higher you go up the food chain the more hard work is frowned upon.

At least in Chelsea's case.

Most of the time, Martin O'Neill's Republic of Ireland team are awful to watch.

They're not in the business of entertaining.

But there is a purity in their effort.

Daryl Murphy's display and post-match words in Cardiff are instructive to every aspiring young footballer.

"The least thing you can do is run your heart out for 90 minutes. That's the least expected of you as a footballer."

Sadly, the same can't be said of so many so-called superstars of the modern game.

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