NFL Division Two Final: Laois boss McNulty up for Donegal test
Justin McNulty has fond memories of his last major mission at Croke Park.
That was in 2002 when he was a key cog in the Armagh defence that shackled the Kerry attack to such an extent in the All Ireland final that his team captured the Sam Maguire Cup for the first time.
Tomorrow McNulty, who hails from Mullaghbawn, will return to Headquarters in a rather different capacity but with his drive for success as intense as ever.
In the four months on which he has been on active duty as the new manager of Laois, McNulty has transformed the fortunes of the midland county which had struggled for recognition under his predecessor Sean Dempsey.
But now a Donegal side whom they defeated in the last round of scheduled league games a fortnight ago will have a massive incentive to lower the Laois colours in what promises to be a riveting National Football League Division Two final.
“Donegal will want to reverse that result against us and while there has been a lot of publicity this week given to the fact that they have injuries I imagine that their side will be very focussed and well motivated for this final,” states McNulty.
“But we will just place emphasis on our own game. While we were delighted to get promotion into Division One of the league we would like to keep in a winning vein especially as the Leinster championship is just round the corner.”
While McNulty has been able to rubber-stamp an unchanged line-up, Donegal boss Jim McGuinness has included defenders Paddy McGrath and Karl Lacey and forwards Michael Murphy and Mark McHugh in his side even though they have been engaged in fitness battles throughout the week.
“It has been hateful having to cope with a lot of injuries just at this point in time. We have been monitoring players throughout the week and now the hope is that they will rise to the occasion tomorrow in what will be a very demanding game,” says McGuinness.
Despite their problems, Donegal are rated as favourites to lift the divisional crown. Certainly the form of forwards such as Colm McFadden, Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy and skipper Murphy suggest that the Laois defence will face a torrid afternoon.
Yet Laois themselves are not short on firepower with M J Tierney, who scored 1-10 against Donegal earlier this month, in particularly hot form.
Colm Begley has been made captain by manager McNulty while Brendan Quigley, Ross Munnelly, Pauric Clancy and John O’Loughlin are other key players in the side.
The Donegal rearguard must find a way of bottling up Tierney in particular if they are to gain the win they desire to fuel optimism for the Ulster Championship in which they will meet Antrim in the opening game at Ballybofey on May 15.
Donegal: P Durkan; P McGrath, N McGee, K Lacey; A Thompson, F McGlynn, K Cassidy; R Kavanagh, M McElhinney; M Hegarty, M McHugh, D Molloy; R Bradley, M Murphy, C McFadden.
Laois: E Culleton; D Booth, K Meaney, M Timmons; D Strong, S Julian, P O'Leary; P Clancy, B Quigley; C Begley, J O'Loughlin, N Donoher; R Munnelly, B Sheehan, MJ Tierney.