HomeFootballLure of ‘dressing-room environment’ proved too strong for Justin McNulty to ignore

Lure of ‘dressing-room environment’ proved too strong for Justin McNulty to ignore

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“It was a bolt out of the blue, a total bolt out of the blue, but I’m delighted that it happened,” McNulty (pictured) said. “I guess I’ve missed that dressing-room environment. I love being in a dressing room with footballers, I love being on the pitch coaching. Gaelic football is something I’m passionate about. Beyond friends and family, nothing defines me more than Gaelic football. I’m hugely privileged to be in the environment that I’m in.”

The only question was whether he could play political football and mix life as an MLA for Newry and Armagh along with guiding Laois’s football fortunes.

For advice, he turned to two other men who have held high-profile positions in the GAA along with public office, Peter Fitzpatrick and the recently deceased John O’Mahony, a man he describes as a ‘friend’ and a ‘leader of people’. Both urged him to go for it.

“I guess there is that heightened level of scrutiny,” McNulty agreed. “I spoke to John O’Mahony at length about it and I spoke to Peter Fitzpatrick at length about it, and they were both hugely supportive of me.

“It’s a balancing act, but life is a balancing act for everybody. You do the best with what you have. That’s all you can do.”

It was a bizarre and unfortunate set of circumstances that saw a very public collision of his two worlds. The Northern Ireland Assembly had long been in a state of flux. When it did return, two years to the date after it last sat, McNulty had a diary clash.

The restoration of the devolved government called for an unusual Saturday gathering, the same day as Laois’s Division 4 clash with Wexford. McNulty left Assembly that day to work the Laois sideline. Amidst a mini political storm, he was later suspended by the SDLP.

“It was a unique situation. It was a Saturday evening sitting of the Assembly, which was just bizarre, and I had to be in two places at the one time. The only way to make it work was to do what I had to do. It all blew up and it surprised [me], the level of interest in that dynamic. It was intriguing and fascinating in many ways.”

Laois beat Wexford that evening, on their way to winning six of seven regular-season games, as well as the league final against Leitrim.

In the Tailteann Cup, they have improved on the hoof. One win, one draw and a defeat in the group stage didn’t look like the form of finalists, but victories over New York, Kildare and Antrim have them in the decider against Down on Saturday.

“We’re proud of the commitment shown by the players, their work ethic, the attitude they have demonstrated. We achieved our league ambitions, which was to get to Division 3. We’re delighted to be in the final. We’re now focused on performing in the final.”

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