WHEN Robert Murphy last represented Australia he was 21. 

He'll look a heck of a lot different than he did in 2003, when he wears Australia's No.2 jumper in the Virgin Australia International Rules Series at Croke Park this Saturday night. 

During his 292-game career he has played in every position on the ground bar the ruck but still uses the catch-all word 'flanker' when anyone unfamiliar with the game asks him what position he plays. 

It has made him to football coaches what duct tape is to a roadie. 

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He is now a father to three children, a husband to Justine, who has been his mate since high school and the captain of his footy club, the Western Bulldogs.

They're the sorts of life changes that now take a couple of pints of Guinness to get one's head around. 

Plenty has gone on in Murphy's world in that time to complement the glimpses we get every winter weekend for three hours.

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But one can imagine from his demeanour it's many of the same things any young bloke with kids, a career, a partner, and a few values of his own experiences when going from a teenager to a man in footy-mad Melbourne.

Now he's back representing Australia, not as the skipper of the team (that honour fell to Luke Hodge) but this year's All Australian captain, a team leader and one of the most respected players on tour.

That regard led coach Alastair Clarkson to pay tribute to what the unassuming flanker had contributed to the game at a team dinner on Wednesday night while recalling that, as coach of Werribee, he had coached young Murphy in his first year at the Bulldogs. 

After the event Murphy mused about Clarkson's presence at either end of his career, suggesting it said as much about the Hawthorn coach's contribution as his own. 

But he appreciated the gesture as much as he has enjoyed the tour.

"I've loved it," Murphy told AFL.com.au.

"I love the Irishness about it and I actually love the game. I love playing it. 

"I have been at the Western Bulldogs for 16 years and you just have this curiosity about other clubs and other players."

A young Robert Murphy (right) lays a tackle at the MCG in the 2003 IRS Test. Picture: AFL Media

The 33-year-old spent Thursday wandering around a fishing village about 40 minutes from Dublin with Justine and a few teammates, taking in the sights and sounds and smells while ensuring his slight frame did not get blown into Dublin bay.

Even with time to ponder, he said appreciating what he will learn from the trip will take time.  

But one thing he knows already is that players at different clubs in different continents have plenty in common.

Those best players, Murphy says, have a competitive edge that bubbles just under the surface, coming out at training when the balls come out and are shared around.

A lot has changed since I played last time but the high standard of training is the constant," Murphy said.

"As soon as the balls came out that pride kicks in, a bit of ego but that competitiveness of wanting to be one of the boys and be up to it." 

The question facing Murphy when he gets home is whether his club, the Western Bulldogs, will be able to improve as rapidly in 2016 as they did in 2015.  

"I think about it constantly," Murphy said.

"We are hungry but you have got to prove it." 

Murphy said the elimination final loss to Adelaide was a shock as it ended the season more quickly than anyone was ready for, so 2016 can't come soon enough. 

"If there is a drop-off in attitude it is going to hurt us. We are a team that has to 'red line' all the time," Murphy said.  

"I can't wait [for 2016] and I think that is how most of the guys feel because when it finished up it felt like we had so much more to give. Hopefully that is a blessing for us."

Ireland is a good place to count one's blessings and Murphy can see the bright side of the experience for the younger players, the pain in the guts that can spur you to take another step.

But from a personal perspective this trip has also aroused in him football jealousy, for many of those around him have flags next to their name. 

"I am a pretty jealous creature, but I find a lot of guys who have played in flags - they don't talk about them because they don't have to," Murphy said.

"There is pecking order, there is ego and where you stand and you have to have won one. I describe it like a hole in the heart until you have won one."

En route to Ireland. Bob's a cool cat #business #virginirs @virginaustralia

A photo posted by Dyson Heppell (@dysonheppell) on Nov 17, 2015 at 12:45am PST

He knows a lot of great things have happened since he last ran around wearing an Australian jumper but he hasn't accepted that it's enough just yet.

"You build up a hunger or a thirst or whatever you want to call it [but] I'm nearly middle-aged and it just doesn't feel nearly enough," Murphy said.

The challenge to drive the Bulldogs up the ladder is enough to invigorate the veteran. 

"That is not a burden. That is the good stuff, the stuff that puts fire in the engine," Murphy said.

So he's back in the Australian jumper, representing a name that has taken part in six of the past 14 International Rules series. And ready to take some of that fire home for the Bulldogs to surge again next season.

Watch the International Rules Test LIVE from Dublin on the AFL Live App and on TV