Sub role not in McNulty's DNA
If Enda McNulty the sports psychologist sat down with Enda McNulty the Armagh footballer he'd be pleased with what he has to say.
Not one to show a chink in the armoury is Enda. When so many of his contemporaries are choosing to ride off into the sunset, he's putting his shoulder to the wheel. And justifying his reasons at almost 34 years of age doesn't tax him in any way.
He tells you, matter of factly, that he is in better shape than he was in 2002 when he won his and his county's one and only All-Ireland medal. He's as fast as he was then and he's as powerful -- if the weights he is pumping in the gym are telling him the truth.
But can he still do it, can he really still do it at the required level? Was he fooling himself by accepting an invitation from the Armagh manager Paddy O'Rourke to return some 10 days before the league final with Down?
"If I wasn't fully confident, I wouldn't be coming back," he declares without a scintilla of doubt in his voice. "If I didn't believe in my ability to play in the full-back line or in the back line in general, I wouldn't be back, I wouldn't be fooling myself."
And then the punchline. "I've never let Armagh down on a big day and I don't plan on letting them down at this stage."
Ouch. Time to hit the reverse button. But he's not finished yet. He has time on the road to justify. Pilates; Yoga; Gym; Pool; Physical Therapy!
"Putting in that amount of hours, putting in that amount of training in Dublin since Christmas, if I didn't believe mentally I'm fit to play at that level," adds McNulty.
"I've seen a lot of players fooling themselves being a bit overweight, not putting in the training. I'm not fooling myself, I know I'm capable of doing it. I have to prove to everyone that I'm capable of it and that's where I'm at."
McNulty is wise enough and around long enough, however, to know that hours in a diary and other facets of the game he can manufacture aren't the same as football perfection. Football ability, he admits, overrides everything else.
"Gaelic football is not about speed and power, it's about the ability to play. I have to improve my football ability and that is where the challenge is for me. You can lift weights all day and run fast all day and have the agility and flexibility you want, but can you play the game at that level? I feel I can."
But why? Why still chase when nearly all those you know and lived the dream with have gone?
For McNulty it's a case of getting the most out of something he wont be able to do one day soon.
"I've only got two years at this level left. I can't go back into an Armagh squad at 36/37 years of age. At that stage it is over for me. There are a lot of things I can do at 36/37, but I can't play inter-county football at 36/37.
"I want to give it my best shot for one or two years and then hang up my boots and focus on my professional career, family life and other aspects that I haven't focused on for the last 15 to 16 years."
The guarantees don't exist. It could be that McNulty - on the bench tomorrow against Monaghan - won't see any activity in the weeks and months ahead. Armagh are well served with young players in key defensive positions. Brendan Donaghy, Finnian Moriarty, Andy Mallon, Ciaran McKeever. The list goes on. Missing out, even at almost 35 won't sit easy. He knows what his side of the bargain can be.
"If I don't get my place back I'd be devastated. I'm not putting in this amount of effort not to be involved with the team. It's not part of my DNA to be sitting on the bench," he said.
"I've been an ever-present starter for Armagh since 1996 right through to 2008, an ever-present starter," he points out.
"I finished nearly ever single game I played during that era. I was never really taken off in any of the big games. I was never a superstar, my game was to perform under pressure and do a job that no one else wanted to do in marking the likes of Peter Canavan, Paddy Bradley, 'Gooch', Mike Frank Russell.
"It was never an elaborate job to do, a sexy job to do. It had to be done."
By day he is managing director of Motiv8, a company he runs with his brother, former team-mate and now Armagh selector Justin. Their business is in performance excellence, not just across the sporting spectrum, but education, business and health too.
He's a 'mental coach' more than a sports psychologist, his role is to nurture. He gives a bit from his time as a sportsman at the cutting edge of an amateur sport, he takes a bit from the professionals he deals with.
Gaelic games, says McNulty, have embraced the importance of mental coaching more than any other sport -- but in the right way?
"Nobody would ever even attempt to bring in a strength and conditioning coach once a year and think that it was going to make the team stronger.
"There's a little bit of bringing in a mental coach once a year and thinking it was going to make the team stronger."
The list of clients Motiv8 have on their books is impressive. Luke Fitzgerald, Gordon D'Arcy and other Leinster rugby players, tennis player Conor Niland, athlete David Gillick, the players of Longford Town.
Recently he spoke to a senior management group at Elverys Sports. He's taken from them as much as he has given them, he says and has had his eyes opened.
"I'm very friendly with Shane Horgan, I've a huge amount of time for him. "I showed him my training programme one day and I thought he was going to be very impressed with it. Shane said 'that's great, but where is your rest (time).'
"I look back on my career with massive regret. I wasn't really focused enough on the importance of rest and rejuvenation."
Complete rest and rejuvenation is surely his entitlement after 14 seasons with Armagh, but he has baulked at that prospect. How could it be any other way? Getting the most out of yourself is what he's about after all.
- Motiv8 are running their academies again in UCD. They are open to athletes from all sporting backgrounds and focus on mental preparation, character building and other leadership qualities.
The academies run from July 12-14 and July 19-21. See the website www.motiv8.ie or text Motiv8 followed by your name to 51444 for details.