It hasn’t been easy since Justin McNulty took over as Laois manager in 2010.
Two full seasons have passed and while the style of play has changed significantly, results haven’t always been what was expected.
Losing to Longford in the first round of the Leinster championship last year left “much unrest in the camp” and the Mullaghbawn man on the edge.
Given that his playing career was defined by granite-like resistance, it should have come as no surprise that Laois were putting it up to All-Ireland champions Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final within a couple of months.
“It certainly hasn’t been steady progress,” McNulty admits. “There has been stormy waters along the way there has been plain sailing for periods, that’s sport, it’s never smooth. You always have rapids to overcome.
“When you work with a team, work with sports, it is unpredictable. If you think anything else then you are a fool.”
There was never any question of him changing tack along the way. “When you’re in sport you have to stick with what you believe is right. There is no compromise. I would always stick by my values, always stick by my principles and I won’t be moved on that.
“Whether it gets you through or not it’s never a certainty [but] if you move off course from what your beliefs are then you are in trouble in my mind.”
Keeping perspective in the most difficult times is the key to surviving, McNulty reckons. The knives were out in the immediate aftermath of the defeat in Pearse Park but the panel showed a unity that hadn’t always been there in previous campaigns.
“You are overcoming underperformance; with a team where people are throwing stones inside the county, outside the county. It’s sport. It’s not really a life-defining issue. Life goes on.
“It’s a question of momentum. Carlow at home was vital. It was a tough game to come out victors in.
“The team were uncomfortable. There was so much unrest within the camp; guys were uneasy with the huge disappointment of being beaten by Longford but they stayed tight. They kept their troubles in-house.”
He describes the fact that three members of Armagh’s All-Ireland winning team — himself, Aidan O’Rourke and Kieran McGeeney — are now managers in Leinster as “a freak of nature”. On Sunday, O’Rourke’s Louth bar Laois’s path at O’Moore Park.
“Me and Aidan have been at war many times together; in the trenches since we were at school... We know each other inside out.
“Aidan is a meticulous planner, fantastic motivator, his attention to detail is phenomenal. Tactically astute. Aidan has had a good apprenticeship working with Kieran [McGeeney] in Kildare, James McCartan in Down. He knows inter-county football inside out. They will know us more than we know them. He’ll have his team well versed.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved