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McNulty: Gilroy can focus Dubs

WE'VE yet to see the full after-effects of last year's All-Ireland success on Dublin this season, but the cold, hard fact remains that only Kerry have won successive Sam Maguires in the past 20 years.

According to someone who should know, the components of that statistic are multi-layered and not so easily explained as merely citing 'lack of hunger' -- as many do, but there are common themes.

"When you're successful, it's not that people lose hunger, it might be that they lose focus," explains former Armagh defender, All-Ireland SFC winner (2002) and noted sports psychologist, Enda McNulty.


"Maybe they decide subconsciously that they don't need to work as hard in those training sessions.

"Maybe they start to get a little bit soft in terms of not eating as well as they did the previous year.

"They don't tackle as hard as they did the previous year. They start to enjoy a little bit of the ego-massaging from their supporters and friends and families.

"Another thing that happens in successful teams is that they start to think it's about them as individuals rather than being about the collective, and then other teams watch you being successful, study why you're successful and identify a strategy for beating you."

With an acute knowledge of Dublin football honed from spending a decade playing the club game in the capital (with Ballyboden St Enda's and Na Fianna), McNulty also spends his professional life in the company of elite sports people and their contemporaries from the business world through his company motiv8 (www.motiv8.ie), and has seen the full spectrum of reaction to success.

"I think (Pat) Gilroy is well-positioned because he's won an All-Ireland as a player and he has won an All-Ireland with his club," he insists.

"He will understand the trappings and the traps that come with that. There are some invisible traps that come with winning the All-Ireland. Who gets sponsored cars and who doesn't get sponsored cars?

"How many players are going on the circuit with the cup? How many players are enjoying too many nights out?

"How many players are playing an extra club game or maybe not playing enough club games? When you're aware of the traps that might lie ahead, it's that bit easier to put a rope ladder over the traps."

As it happened, the 2010 All-Ireland qualifier between the counties was McNulty's last involvement as an Armagh player, as he was an unused sub in Dublin's narrow victory -- one which, he is sure, would never have materialised had Brian Mallon's 62nd-minute shot hit the net rather than Philly McMahon's well-placed left foot.

"I think Dublin's confidence was brittle that day," he notes.

"And I think Dublin were there for the taking that day. I think if Armagh had scored that goal, we could have gone on to win the match and gone on to give the All-Ireland a rattle.

"But, after that day, Dublin gained massive confidence and massive belief about themselves -- that they could beat the big teams on the big days when they're under pressure.

"What I was very impressed with about Dublin that day was their physicality. That day, they out-tackled Armagh.

"Their intensity and their ferocity was greater than Armagh's. So they completely turned the tables on us and did exactly to us what we done to them in '02 and '03."

As for Armagh, McNulty is "very optimistic and excited", but his positivity comes with a large caveat in the context of Sunday's match. The 'dream' Orchard County full-forward line of Stevie McDonnell, Ronan Clarke and Jamie Clarke are all missing for various reasons this weekend, and it is the latter, currently club-tied with Crossmaglen Rangers, on whom McNulty is pinning his future hopes.

"If you compare Jamie with Colm Cooper," he asserts, "he's faster, has greater agility, greater strength, and I think he has a greater sidestep ... I think if Armagh can get those players back into the team, they can be back up challenging for All-Irelands.

"Whether that happens this year or next year or the year after that," he concludes, "it's hard to say."