As he prepares for his third season at the helm of the Laois senior footballers, in many ways Justin McNulty is back where he started.
His team are in Division 2, he has an influx of players onto the panel and his short term objective will be to try and qualify for Division 1. It is there that the similarities end, however. Last year’s run through the qualifiers gave renewed hope of better times ahead, and Laois will start this campaign as one of the favourites to secure promotion to Division 1.
With this being his third year, he has also had time to develop the team and his panel in the way he wants. You could be forgiven for thinking those different factors might add to the pressure on Justin McNulty, but when it was put to him last week, he rejected the assumption. “Pressure from who?”
“The only pressure on me is from the pressure I put on myself, to make sure the players are happy and in the best position to compete.”
As he sets about finalising a panel for the league, which he admitted would only be settled on at some point before the league gets underway, whatever way things pan out he should be better off this year than last. The run to the All-Ireland quarter-final last year seems to have convinced some players to return to the fold.
While the manager admits he has more options at his disposal this time around, he was quick to point out they will count for nothing unless it all equates to performances on the field. “I think everybody realised last year that we needed more competition for places, but it has to be delivered on the field.
“There is no benefit to having a better panel on paper if they don’t deliver in games.”
He was reluctant to set targets for this league campaign either, with the opening game against Armagh his sole focus. “We are just focussing one game at a time. The ambition is to get back to Division 1 but that is the same for every other team in the Division, so we just have to take it one game at a time.”
The game against Armagh is bound to be special for the Laois manager for obvious reasons, but with Paul Grimley now at the helm of the Orchard County it adds an extra dimension to it.
Grimley was part of Joe Kernan’s back room team in 2002 when McNulty won the All-Ireland title, and the Laois boss admits that Grimley, like many others, have had a big influence on his career. “Paul Grimley, and his coaches, Peter McDonnell and Martin McQuillan, had a huge influence on my career in how they guided me.”
The Laois manager admitted there was more behind his career than those however, and also paid triute to men like Dessie Ryan in Queens University, among others, for helping him along the way.
For now though, he’s not looking back on who helped to get him here, he’s only looking ahead to the NFL, and he revealed the team are looking forward to getting up an running. “We’re very excited about the league, and we’re looking forward to our first game in a very competitive Division.”