JUSTIN McNULTY agreed to become Laois football manager last August because he spied a squad brimful with potential — but he doesn’t necessarily buy into the theory that the O’Moore men “under-achieved” over the previous half-decade.
The departure of Mick O’Dwyer in 2006 was followed by four fallow campaigns, firstly under Liam Kearns and then Seán Dempsey, but fortunes have been dramatically revived under former Armagh defender McNulty.
In his first season as an inter-county manager, the 2002 All-Ireland winner has secured top-flight promotion for his adopted Laois who will contest the Division Two final against Donegal at Croke Park this Sunday.
Asked if there was a sense that the team had under-achieved before his arrival, McNulty replied: “I guess you might say that they have a little bit of a chip on the shoulder. Under-performance, under-achievers? Possibly, I’m not so sure.
“You have to give huge credit to the work that Seán Dempsey and Liam Kearns have both done in bringing the team to the level that they are at,” he added. “Getting a team on the way up is better than getting a team on the way down, for sure.”
McNulty, a selector with Armagh last season, said ‘yes’ to the Laois county board because he saw “a team who had huge potential, very simply. I saw talented players with massive ability, and with the right systems and structures they might progress.
“We’re not there yet,” he stressed. “Don’t get me wrong — I’m a managerial novice, I don’t have all the answers, I’m not the guru. I’m seeking to learn with every game I manage.
“And I hope that my players have the same mentality where they want to improve their performance every time they go out.
“We’re in a league final on Sunday but that’s not the be-all and end-all. Come the 22nd of May, this game doesn’t matter.
“It’s about Longford, who are certainly on the crest of a wave also,” he cautioned.
McNulty has a straight-forward explanation for his ploy of watching entire matches from the stand, saying: “It’s a matter of simply getting a better view of the action from a more elevated position, that’s the only reason why myself and Paul (Clancy, fellow selector) sit there together.”
Prolific free-taker MJ Tierney is his “biggest concern” for Sunday’s showdown with a hamstring problem, but he remains hopeful that various injury niggles with clear up in time.
- Frank Roche, Evening Herald