McNulty keeps mind on matters on the field
"There is always an inner game being played in your mind no matter what outer game you are playing. How aware you are of this game can make the difference between success and failure in the outer game." - Extract from The Inner Game of Tennis, by Timothy Gallwey.
This was the first book Enda McNulty read on sports psychology. It was given to him by his father. Since then he has devoured thousands of pages on the subject, picking up a psychology degree at Queen's University and a Masters in Sports Science at University of Ulster, Jordanstown.
McNulty has the added advantage of having played, and won, at the very elite end of his sport. He remains an integral part of an evolving Armagh panel, where survivors from their breakthrough All-Ireland in 2002 are beginning to dwindle. He won an All Star that year.
This season Joe Kernan won't be prowling the Armagh line. Nor is Kieran McGeeney cajoling an extra inch from team-mates.
McNulty heads to Cusack Park in Mullingar on Sunday in an attempt to cement a place in new manager Peter McDonnell's team.
"When I'm with Armagh I'm only a player. I'm not an adviser. I enjoy the freshness of that. To be thinking about psychology means I'm taking my eye off the ball from a playing point of view. That's why I don't work with GAA teams. While I'm still playing, from a professional viewpoint that doesn't make sense. I could make a lot of money out of it but I'm not interested in that."
Regardless, his name keeps popping up in other sporting environments. Ireland's brightest 400-metre prospect, David Gillick, swears by him. Visit Leinster rugby's media sessions and his name comes up repeatedly. Then there is Irish basketball international Conor Grace, who is plying his trade with Norrkoping in the Swedish professional league. A full-time role with Aston Villa was the most recent suggestion.
"Yeah, I'm working a lot with some of the Leinster boys but it's up to them to say what I'm doing with them. I don't publicise it."
Bernard Jackman is an unabashed fan. Largely a bench warmer in recent seasons, the Tullow man started at hooker for Ireland in the Stade De France last Saturday. "I have to attribute all his development to him, not to me. If I've done two or three little things that have helped him brilliant but I'm not going to claim to have made a significant difference. Jackman, like David Gillick, has an unbelievable attitude. He is striving every day for improvement. He is open to new ideas."
Longford Town manager Alan Matthews had him in as a consultant - a period that included two FAI Cup triumphs. There is a relationship with St Mary's RFC, while it all started at Ballyboden St Enda's, where he was director of coaching from 2001 to 2005.
"A few years ago I worked with Wexford hurling but not as much as I would have liked to. Like any training programme it wouldn't be a once-off. You wouldn't expect to improve your striking or your catching in one session; then why would you expect to improve your confidence or the team to develop in one session? I always look for a 10-session programme, minimum."
McNulty identifies the writings of Pádraig Harrington's guru, Bob Rotella, as a must while Dublin-based clinical psychologist Felicity Heathcote is another who has assisted his progress.
The Armagh man keeps it simple. "I always get people I work with to draw out a confidence peak chart. You draw a picture frame on a page and you get the player to write down all their best performances with all the details. When it was, where it was, what I did extremely well and how did I feel afterwards - proud, relieved, satisfied.
"The more you refer back to it, the more it gives you confidence. 'Yeah, I did that a month ago. Sure, I'm not that far away. I've done it in the All-Ireland final in 2003'. Or 'I've done that in front of 80,000 people at a rugby match or whatever'. You can always refer back to that."
Do barriers still exist in his field of expertise? "From a GAA point of view, a lot of teams are now bringing in people for mental preparation or mental training. I would say there are a lot of good people in Ireland in terms of this but they are not given the licence they should have. For example, talking to Armagh player Kevin Dyas, who is now with Collingwood, they have a full-time sports psychologist on site. We all know a quick fix in sport doesn't work."
It prompts the question, why must Irish sport always be in pursuit of sporting innovators from other codes and countries?
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