The former Armagh stalwart and now performance coach to the stars won seven Ulster medals from 1999 to 2008 but only the one All-Ireland (in 2002), whereas Kerry and Tyrone would win a combined eight All-Irelands in that decade.
Armagh were a widely admired and influential side during that era, but it is McNulty’s contention that contrary to general consensus, they were also the most — rather than the least — talented of the so-called Big Three, and thus the most underachieving.
“That team, without a doubt, was a failure,” McNulty said in an interview in the latest edition of the men’s magazine Irish Tatler Man.
“We’ll go to our grave with that regret. Armagh were in a position to win nine All-Irelands and we won one. You might say to me, ‘Enda, that’s not very positive.’ No, but it’s realistic. That team had the leaders, had the skill, the adversity-quotient, the power, the physicality, the defence, the scorers.
“It is a disgrace that team only won one All-Ireland.”
Armagh at the time were regularly coming up against the best Tyrone side ever with talents like Peter Canavan, Brian McGuigan and Brian Dooher, as well as an exceptional Kerry side featuring Seamus Moynihan, the Ó Sé brothers and a devastating attack.
But for McNulty, who is now part of Joe Schmidt’s Ireland rugby backroom team that delivered the 2014 Six Nations Championship, any side that was as defensively mean as Armagh’s, had Paul McGrane in midfield, and an attack with the likes of Oisín McConville, Steven McDonnell, Ronan Clarke, Diarmuid Marsden and the McEntees was even better.
“It’s not about the other actors on the stage being better; we didn’t do it. As good as Kerry and Tyrone were, we lost to weaker teams. We were good enough on those big days that we lost. We were six points up at one stage against Kerry in the quarter-final in 2006. Against Meath in 1999 (All-Ireland semi-final), we were good enough to win that, so therefore we were good enough. There were days, weeks and months where I found it difficult to get out of bed. After Tyrone in ‘05 (All-Ireland semi-final), Kerry ‘06 and Derry ‘07 (first-round qualifier), I literally struggled to get out of bed.”
However, McNulty believes at least some good has come from such disappointments.
“Working now with athletes or teams who experience (similar) lows I can empathise. Those failures become part of your success. If I had won six All-Irelands, maybe I wouldn’t have the hunger to learn.”