Thursday 18 January 2018

'I sacrificed my playing days, I can offer much more as manager'

22 November 2015; Malachy McNulty:
22 November 2015; Malachy McNulty: "“It’s a tough balancing act. You have to take a step back from socialising with them."

Michael Verney

When the opportunity came knocking, Malachy McNulty was there to open the door.

The "honour" of managing Portlaoise was something he simply couldn't resist, but it meant ending a 14-year senior career with 'The Town'.

The 33-year-old, who won 10 Laois SFC medals and two Leinster titles, still felt he had more to offer on the pitch, but his decision was made for him.

"It's a big choice to make," McNulty admits. "It was entirely my intention to play for a few more years but when the job came up, it made up my mind for me.

"It was a big decision and a brave decision. You're sacrificing yourself, and the buzz you get managing the team is a long distance second to playing.

"It's out of the frying pan and straight into the fire but I'm not afraid to put my hand up and make a sacrifice for the team because I actually feel that I have something to help drive it on."

The chance to lead another golden generation, and add to Portlaoise's haul of seven Leinster titles, could not be missed.

McNulty spent two years with the club U-21s and managed the second team while still playing, so it was second nature to lead the nine-in-a-row charge in Laois.

"I suppose it's a wee bit of a poisoned chalice. Who wants to be that person that brings that incredible run to an end?" the former corner-back says.

"But there's been very little between ourselves and the teams that have beaten us over the last 10 years in Leinster."

The job required wholesale changes. Relationships forged on and off the battlefield over a memorable decade are now kept at arm's length.

The Glasnevin secondary school teacher admits it's a challenging transition but one he feels he has dealt with like a true professional.

He says: "I made a conscious decision that I was going to create that distance because it's a distance that you have to create.

"I know the players personally but for the year that's in it you have to put a lot of personal friendships aside and that's very difficult.

"It's a tough balancing act. You have to take a step back from socialising with them. It's been a huge psychological challenge for myself to maintain that distance but I feel it's worked."

McNulty's remarkable 12-month journey is tinged with sadness - his mother Violet was buried the day after their narrow quarter-final victory over Sarsfields.

The "rallying support" his family received "will never be forgotten and showed everything good about the club" but Portlaoise folk will go to any length for the white and green.

Cahir Healy and Brian Smith (London) and Brian Glynn (Liverpool) all commute home regularly, displaying a commitment and hunger which underpins McNulty's appetite for the job.

"They're always striving for more and they want to get their hands on that Leinster title again. I've seen huge potential and a team that have come so close but yet so far," he says.

"The word perennial is thrown around a lot. We're probably not winning what we feel we have the potential to, but we've been so consistent over the past 10 years."

A familiar foe, albeit a different jersey, stands in their way of a first provincial title since 2009, as they face Ballyboden St Enda's tomorrow.

Dublin sides have heaped misery on 'the Town, with five losses in as many years - with four of those teams going on to lift the McCabe Cup - so there are plenty scars of finals past.

"It's super to be back in a final. In the back of everyone's mind we remember a few finals that we left behind but we're not quick to make comparisons with what's gone," says McNulty.

"People will say it's not St Vincent's, Kilmacud or Ballymun but Ballyboden have come through one of the toughest championships and they're a very strong, fit, physically imposing team."

After a whirlwind year, Leinster's holy grail would be the ultimate reward for the ultimate sacrifice. "It would mean the world to them, and me, to win," he concludes.

Irish Independent

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