It’s been quite a journey for a Woking player, as Haran Naresh reports.Many top-level professional footballers did not get the chance to represent their countries. The likes of Steve Bruce, Paolo di Canio and Mikel Arteta were all overlooked by their international sides despite having accomplished club careers.
It’s different for 28-year-old Keiran Zac Murtagh. He plays in the fifth tier of English football for Woking FC and is one of the few players in the National League to be currently playing international football. He has the chance to showcase his abilities at the highest stage of football. He made his debut for Antigua & Barbuda in 2010 in the Caribbean Cup, has 22 caps and has scored five goals.
Woking FC are a semi-professional team based in Surrey. They were established in 1889 and play in the National League, which is the fifth tier of professional football in England and the highest level of non-league football.
Murtagh was born and raised in Wapping, East London but qualifies for Antigua and Barbuda through his Antiguan parentage.
When asked about how he was noticed the by Antigua and Barbuda national team, Murtagh said: “I was playing at Wycombe at the time and one of the boys that played there had already played for Antigua. He knew that I was Antiguan and he put my name forward, they started researching me and then called me up and asked me to play.”
I asked Murtagh if he had to pay for his flights to and from his international matches, considering that he is a semi-professional player, to which he replied: “It’s accommodated by the national football association.”
Murtagh also outlined his ambitions with his national team: “We want to get into the World Cup. We got into the last 16 (in qualifying) and we lost to the USA and Jamaica for the last World Cup so we were close. Antigua have never qualified for a World Cup, so hopefully that’s the plan.”
Murtagh had previous experience of international football before he played for Antigua & Barbuda, he played for Republic of Ireland U17s when he was at Charlton Athletic.
Murtagh started his career at semi-pro Fisher Athletic who are based in South-East London before having spells at Yeovil Town, Wycombe Wanderers, Cambridge United, Macclesfield Town and Mansfield Town.
Murtagh spent the duration of youth career at Charlton Athletic.
He first joined Woking on loan in 2011 from Wycombe Wanderers and returned on loan two seasons later before signing on a permanent deal a season after that.
Woking have been in the National League (formerly the Conference Premier) for the last five seasons. They are in a relegation battle this season in 20th just above the relegation zone with 44 points. Murtagh is Woking’s vice-captain and has become one of their key players this season, he has made 38 appearances in all competitions, scoring two goals.
As of April 2017, Antigua and Barbuda are ranked 90th in the FIFA World rankings. Antigua and Barbuda faced Estonia (their first ever European opposition) on 22nd November 2016.
Murtagh is not the only player in the Woking squad to have played international football. Striker Zak Ansah played for Ghana U20s while midfielder Kane Ferdinand made two appearances for the Republic of Ireland U21s.
International football is a fry cry from Murtagh’s National League club career where he is used to playing in front of a crowd of approximately 1,634. He has played against established players in established international teams such Mexico and the USA.
I spoke to Murtagh’s team-mate Portuguese midfielder Fabio Saraiva and asked him how non-league players could benefit from playing international football. He said: “I think it can obviously help a lot. You play alongside other top quality international players playing in different countries and different styles of play. That will allow you to pick things up from individuals which will only improves your games personally.”
Antigua and Barbuda have several players that are based in England. 23-year-old Oldham Athletic striker Calaum Jahraldo-Martin was selected in Antigua & Barbuda’s most recent squad.
Many English players have done as Murtagh has, playing for the countries of their parents. The likes of Alex Iwobi and Wilfried Zaha are two of the most recent high-profile examples.
Murtagh’s international career makes him stand out from the majority of National League players and Woking FC would hope that he can guide them to safety this season.