As Nathan Murphy ran up the race on Grand Final day, he couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.

About to live out a childhood dream, the defender was soaking up the atmosphere on the biggest day of his life.

“Running onto the field it just felt like another finals series for us, that’s where we’ve been so lucky with our crowds and the way it’s been built up, it just felt like another finals game,” Murphy remembers.

“You’ll see in the huddle and even our team photo, everyone is just smiling which I just think is the best thing about our team and Fly does such a good job of it, we’re just so excited and so in the moment.

“All of us were going out to do something we dreamt of as kids so we were just so happy.

“It’s such a powerful thing when you look around and boys are enjoying themselves. It just gave me a big sense of calmness knowing the boys were feeling the same way as I was.”

But as fate would have it, little more than half an hour later his day was over.

His collision with Brisbane’s Lincoln McCarthy late in the first term put him into concussion protocols and forced off the ground despite his strong start.

“I went to pick up the ball and got the hit and I remember being on the ground with a few boys surrounding me.

“I remember my teammates just saying deep breaths, you’ll be right sort of thing and I got up and ran off and went straight down to the rooms and it was just me and our doctor in this small room.”

Murphy had been in the same position before, so had a fair idea of what was coming for him despite the hit to the head.

But given the heat on Grand Final day, even the 23-year-old knew he was facing an up-hill battle to get back on the field.

“My head was spinning, reacted badly probably to the light and noise and that’s probably when it hit me that I needed to make the decision.”

It was in that moment that Murphy made the toughest, but most selfless decision of his football career.

But such is the character of not just Murphy the player, but Murphy the teammate, that he knew he still had a role to play despite being subbed out.

“It was frustrating because I knew me going down probably meant we were going to be undersized, but I also had full trust in Buzzy who can play whatever height position required, same with Q,” he said.

“I went down to the room in the second quarter to see Mum, Dad, and my girlfriend and that’s when it probably really got to me.

“Once I got over that I knew I had to play a big part on the bench and stay really positive and help my teammates and it was the hardest half of my life having to watch a Grand Final from the bench.”

But this off-field decision reflects a broader selflessness harboured by the Pies’ number 28.

Forever displaying courage in marking contests, going back with the flight without fear and stepping in the way of his opponents, Murphy is a teammate’s dream.

His 2023 season reflected that, averaging six spoils a game, with a career-high 16 against Port Adelaide in Round 19, and constantly putting his team above himself.

And it was reflected in his teammates’ response to him on the last day in September.

“My teammates have been amazing to me and I’ve got such a close bond, that’s what we said in the circle it’s very rare that you get on with 44 blokes,” Murphy said.

“That’s where I’m so lucky at this work place that I genuinely care and get along with 44 blokes at this club and I had so many of them come up to me and give me hugs during the quarter and at half time as well and I had a lot come up to me after the game and say how much I was missed.

“That’s so valuable to me because my biggest thing as a footballer is I don’t believe I belong and when you’ve got your teammates saying that it’s really powerful and I just felt so valued.”

Nathan Murphy’s 2023 stats:

  • Most ever disposals in a season for career (232)
  • Averaged six spoils per game
  • Most games he’s played in a season
  • 168 one percenters for the season
  • Ranked seventh in the AFL for one percenters in 2023