McGeeney model the yardstick -- McNulty
"Those are guys I have been into battle with and those are guys I would trust my life with, so it is going to be very interesting to be pitting our wits against each other" -- Justin McNulty
IT was one of the first questions the new Laois manager was asked on his appointment, about the coming days when he would be pitting his wits against Kieran McGeeney.
McNulty went straight to the point. What his old friend had done in Kildare was the "yardstick" for his new side in 2011.
"To emulate what he has done in Kildare would be massive and it would be a huge success for us in Laois. That is a great yardstick to measure yourself by."
It's a relationship that goes all the way back to the underage set-up in Mullaghbawn, on to Abbey CBS where McGeeney played MacRory Cup football in the late 80s and McNulty, three years his junior, was just in the door of the famous nursery.
They've seen a lot together in their playing careers, which reached their zenith in 2002 and ended with retirement from front-line action with Dublin club Na Fianna. And they'll write the latest chapter tomorrow when McNulty brings his Laois side to Newbridge.
Laois have been the pacesetters thus far in Division 2, and underlined their potential with a 14-point demolition of Derry in Celtic Park. Perhaps mischievously, McGeeney suggested this week that the O'Moore men had promotion all but wrapped up.
"You have quality teams in this league and Laois seem to be the front runners now," said the 2002 captain. "They put up a massive scoreline in Celtic Park and you have to fancy them to go on and take the division. The rest of us will scrap around the middle. We might have a row on the sidelines just to put on a sideshow," joked McNulty about the weekend's showdown.
"It's irrelevant really. It's a game of football and really it's just a twist of fate the way things have turned out. Geezer is somebody I admire and look up to. He has demonstrated his skills as a manager already at Kildare. He is a quality leader as a player and a manager."
They differ greatly in their path to management. In late 2007, McGeeney and Kildare saw enough in each other to take a chance. It could have been considered out of character for the Armagh man who prepared methodically throughout his career and, on that basis, might have been expected to cut his teeth at a lower level before making the step up to inter-county management.
That's the path McNulty chose, winning a county title in Cavan with Mullahoran, steering Dublin side St Brigid's to a senior final and serving as a selector for 12 months under Paddy O'Rourke in Armagh before accepting the Laois post after consultation with McGeeney.
"I did ask Geezer for some advice in terms of going into county management, although not about Laois specifically. He's a very good friend and somebody I'd listen to," McNulty said.
"He has Aidan O'Rourke with him who has a very astute footballing brain. We're under no illusions, but that this Kildare team will be very well drilled and an enormous challenge for us. They're a team that got to an All-Ireland semi-final and were very unfortunate not to make the final and might well have won it had they gotten there."
Off the field, their dedication to self-improvement continues. McNulty is combining managing Laois with reading a MBA in DCU and running a business. McGeeney uses his spare time to ascend through the ranks of jiu-jitsu.
"I think form coming into derby games is irrelevant," said the Laois manager. "People can read too much into the Derry game, but that was an illusion. Derry would admit themselves that they didn't perform and we had it all our own way. This is a derby game, so it will be dog eat dog.
"Every derby is probably unique. I firmly believe that they're different, whether it be Cork-Kerry, Dublin-Meath, Dublin-Kildare, Armagh-Down or Armagh-Tyrone. So, I'm unfamiliar with the dynamics between Laois and Kildare and the Kildare management will know that better."