WREXHAM midfielder Conall Murtagh took time out of pre-season training this week to graduate from The University of Manchester.
The 23-year-old has netted an upper second class honours degree in Physiology after a rollercoaster year both on and off the pitch.
Murtagh has had to master two very different, demanding lives, one at the Racecourse and one at the Faculty of Life Sciences in Manchester, even sitting an exam before driving 50 miles to the biggest match of his life against Aston Villa.
“It’s tough, staying in the library until it closes, sitting at the computer cluster until 1am before getting up early for a training session, trying to catch up with the notes when you’ve had to miss a lecture and not going on nights out,” says Murtagh.
Having impressed for Connah’s Quay Nomads and then Rhyl in the Welsh Premier League, the Dragons signed Murtagh on a two-year contract last summer, two years into his university course.
“When I signed up with Wrexham I had achieved half my goal of playing professional football and getting a degree,” says Murtagh, whose final-year research project was investigating the exercise benefits of the Nintendo Wii. “When I told them I wanted to finish my course and they agreed, I really appreciated their support and understanding.”
Murtagh’s final year began on a high, playing in the pre-season clashes against Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers, earning the man of the match award in the latter, and then scoring a crucial spot-kick in the Carling Cup penalty shoot-out success at Port Vale, which earned Wrexham a second-round home tie to Villa.
“Villa had just paid £8m for their midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker so that’s who I was up against,” he remembers of the 5-0 defeat. “There was a great crowd, around 10,000, including my dad, so it was a good experience. But by the end I was very tired and did not play brilliantly.
“I had not asked the faculty for another exam date and maybe I should have, but then I didn’t know that I would definitely play and I don’t like to ask for special treatment.”
A few days later, Murtagh suffered a serious thigh injury in training and was out for three months as his team-mates slid towards to the Blue Square Premier.
“This year I am looking forward to focusing completely on my football,” says Murtagh. “I have got more to offer this year – I will be training more, I will be more rested, fresh, and with my degree completed, the pressure is off. I will be a better player.”