One of football's proverbial wandering minstrels came strolling back through the gates of Colney this morning – as ever, with those Irish eyes a-smiling.
Few have ever questioned Phil Mulryne's ability to play football. He could pass for Britain. Or rather Northern Ireland, after spending his teenage years being groomed for stardom at Manchester United.
The chink in his armour was always fitness – that and being one of the most sociable footballers on the circuit.
Today he was back training with the Canaries in the hope that some serious fitness work would put his professional career back on track. Since leaving Norfolk in the summer of 2005, Mulryne has made just two Football League starts – once for Cardiff City, once for Leyton Orient.
Two, long season's wandering in the wilderness. By anyone's standards, that's a shocking waste of a lot of God-given talent.
“I had pre-season down in Bournemouth and they offered me a month-to-month contract,” said Mulryne, spotted north of the border with St Mirren in the none too distant past.
He'd even been spotted down the road with Ipswich – hoping that his Northern Ireland connections with Town boss Jim Magilton and his Canary days with coach Steve Foley could get him a permanent gig.
“But I need to get playing regularly and it wasn't really something concrete. And then I had a little hamstring injury and only got back from that a couple of weeks ago.
“So I spoke to Granty (Peter Grant) and said: 'Would it be OK to just come up and train?' I've been training by myself but obviously it's not the same – and he's been great and said: 'Come in and use the facilities and stuff…'
“So it's just a case of keep ticking over, get fit and then, hopefully, my agent can get something sorted over the next couple of weeks.”
There is, of course, one or two obvious conclusions to jump to given that Grant's midfield is currently missing the combined creative talents of both Jimmy Smith and Mark Fotheringham – albeit Grant revealed this morning that he hoped on-loan Chelsea 20-year-old Smith would be stepping back through the doors of Colney in the next “two to three weeks”.
Mulryne, however, has his feet planted firmly on the floor and is looking little further than simply getting that much nearer match fitness after two, wasted years being dogged by one niggle and knock after another.
“I do feel good – it's the first time that I've done pre-season for about the last two years and I really needed that – I've got the base now.
“I've had the little set-back, but hopefully now with a week of training I'll be ready to go and, hopefully, get something sorted.”
The thought that it might, just, be back at Norwich had not, he insisted, even crossed his mind. Was it not there, somewhere at the back of his head?
“Honestly, no – not at all,” said Mulryne, whose last appearance in a City shirt came in that astonishing 4-4 draw with Middlesbrough back in January, 2005. He had, alas, made way for Gary Holt before the real fun began to start.
“The club didn't approach me – I just rang Peter to see if I could come up to train. There's nothing in it, whatsoever. So that's not even on the cards.
“I'm just trying to get my career back on track and, hopefully, my agent can get something sorted for me in the next couple of weeks.”
It does seem a long time since Mulryne was beaming from the balcony of City Hall, the old Football League Championship trophy nestled in his arms. His goal away at Reading – albeit with the helping hand of an official – had likewise done much to ensure City's title success.
“It's been a hard time, to be honest with you,” said Mulryne, after his switch to Cardiff City yielded just two appearances and a free transfer move away.
“From going from playing here and doing really well to picking up a few bad injuries and not having a good year at Cardiff – and that set me back.
“It does make you appreciate what you had – and if I ever got a second chance, I'm not going to waste it,” said Mulryne, whose career took its first big knock when Christian Dailly broke his leg at Carrow Road when the Scottish international was playing for Blackburn Rovers.
An infection to the wound would follow and, somehow, it all started to unravel – first in Norfolk and then wherever he came to lay his hat.
“It's been a horrible year for me – moving around the country, different clubs and everything. But in my mind now I'm so hungry to get back playing because I know that I can still do it.
“I've only just turned 29 so I've got a lot to offer.”
He is, however, resigned to packing his bags again – to wandering off back down football's by-ways in search of a fresh start, a new club.
“I'm based at Cardiff at the minute – we've got a house there; my girlfriend's fom there – but it's football. If I've got to get something sorted wherever it is, then I'll have to go because I'm in the position now where I need to be playing again.
“So it doesn't matter where it is – I just want to be playing again.”
For now it was clearly nice to be back among a few familiar faces. The trick was just to make sure that he didn't get too attached to his old haunts before he had to move on again. A rolling stone and all that…
“It is a little bit strange walking back through the door – fond memories from here. But, obviously, that's gone now and I'm just glad that Peter has come in and let me train,” said Mulryne.
“I can't get too attached to anything – I've just got to come in and train and, hopefully, it'll stand me in good stead to get something sorted. But I really appreciate the club for letting me come in.”
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