How did Enda McNulty become such an influential figure in Irish sport? — August 2009
DAVID Gillick name-checked him after he won his second European Indoor 400m title in a row in 2007.
Luke Fitzgerald gave him the credit for helping him to force his way on to the Lions Test team.
Former Liverpool boss Roy Evans was blown away by a presentation he gave to young players.
And Bernard Jackman reckoned he helped him in his quest to find consistency with Leinster.
McNulty doesn’t like the term sports psychologist. Instead, he tells you that he works as a mental training coach.
And he has one advantage over many others who works in his field — his experience of the heat and dust of the arena over 13 years as an Armagh footballer means he can relate to top sportspeople at their level.
McNulty is currently working with young players at a top Premier League club and he feels that the world of English soccer is an untapped market in terms of mental preparation.
“We’re working with a young fella in the Premier League and we’ve been asking him what advice his club have been giving him on mental training. He said he receives no mental training what soever.’’ said McNulty.
“He was saying that none of the guys in his dressing-room have encountered the kind of stuff we’ve been doing with him.
“He feels it’s giving him an edge over his team mates because no-one else is doing it.
“There is a lot of nonsense talked across many sports about ‘belief’.
“If a player is overweight, if they lack strength and power, if they haven’t practiced kicking for months, then simply improving their ‘belief’ isn’t going to make any difference.
“Belief doesn’t come from doing one thing. It comes from consistently and repeatedly practicising mentally and physically to your potential.
“With Armagh, I would say that we learned a lot and that we gained a lot of belief even in defeat.
“We knew after we were beaten by Kerry after extra time in the All-Ireland semi-final replay in 2000 that we were good enough to go toe to toe with any team.
“It wasn’t that you have to achieve defeat before you can taste victory. It’s more that we learned so much from that game, we learned that we had to be more ruthless, that we had to become better at closing games out.
“Individually we all gained belief in our capacity to perform on the biggest stage. “
“Malcolm Gladwell wrote a great book called ‘Outliers’ where he writes about the “10,000 hour rule’’ — that the top people across the board in all sports have one thing in common.
“And it’s not belief, it’s not mental toughness, or confidence. It’s that they put in 10,000 hours to develop their skills and abilities.
“So 10,000 hours breaks down to three hours a day, seven days a week for 10 years.
“If you look at all those Armagh guys who were lucky enough to win All-Ireland medals from Diarmuid Marsden to Bumpy O’Hagan, the Mc Entee Twins to Andrew McCann to Kieran McGeeney and so on…those guys would have invested three hours a day every day for 10 years.
“From a very early age every one of them had a ball in their hand..
“Every one of them developed their skills through “playing” long before they got to Armagh.
“It’s wrong for me to say that Armagh were unique in this regard. Take any of Ireland’s best sports men
“Padraig Harrington, Steve Collins, DJ Carey, Cora Staunton, Bernard Dunne, Katie Taylor, Derval O’Rourke, David Gillick and people of that ilk…what do they all have in common?
“Is it confidence? Is it belief? Is it mental toughness? I would say, first and foremost, its 10,000 hours.
McNulty credits people like John Kremer, Felicity Heathcote, his father Joe and his old football coach at Queens University Belfast, Dessie Ryan. for moulding his beliefs.
And he admits hat he has learned a lot from the mistakes he has made that his own football career.
The corner-back always wore strapping on his wrists and sometimes he’d scrawl up to five initials on the strapping which reminded him of things he had to do. It just left him too wound-up to perform.
“I would say I sabotaged several of the years when I was at my football prime because I worked too hard, ‘’ he said.
“I trained like a professional but rested like an amateur, so much so that when it came to the big day, I wanted to win so much that I was tight mentally, and drained — physically and emotionally.
“You have to come to a stage where you can detach from things — even in the middle of a game you have to be able to chill out and relax.
“At the Olympics last year, Usain Bolt gave the biggest exhibition of high performance in any era.
“What did he do? Was he very rigid and tight on the mornings of the 100m and 200m finals?
“Far from it. He got up, went and got some chicken nuggets and went back to bed. He rose again, went for more chicken nuggets and hit the bed again.
“Bolt is the perfect example of being relaxed and chilled out. At that stage, the philosophy with regard to mental training should be “the computer is programmed”. At that stage, go and run.”
McNulty got a buzz out of Leinster’s wonderful season but he is keen to deflect the praise to where he feels it belongs.
“I was extremely lucky to work with those players and with such a successful team, I have a huge amount of time for their coach Michael Cheika,’’ he said.
“I learned more from Michael and Leinster in the past year than they learned from me.
“At no stage, did I think that they were mentally frail but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that they needed to work on their consistency of performance.
“But it was the players and the coaching staff who turned that around last year. If I contributed one per cent towards helping them becoming more consistent, then I’d be very proud of that.
“I would state clearly that I think there’s big room for improvement in every one of those players and in the squad but I also know that the characters within the squad and the coaching staff will be ensuring that the team raise the bar in all aspects of their preparation and performance over the next few seasons.”