Justin McNulty wears two hats with his GAA one on this Saturday

Justin McNulty MLA and Laois Manager (right) pictured with Armagh Manager Kieran McGeeney. Picture:  ©Russell Pritchard / PresseyeJustin McNulty MLA and Laois Manager (right) pictured with Armagh Manager Kieran McGeeney. Picture:  ©Russell Pritchard / Presseye
Justin McNulty MLA and Laois Manager (right) pictured with Armagh Manager Kieran McGeeney. Picture: ©Russell Pritchard / Presseye
It's not often a Senior Football County manager has the title MLA before his name but Justin McNulty is a man who wears those two hats – controversially at times.

This Saturday McNulty, who has sat in the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly since 2016 as a Newry and Armagh MLA, will be firmly in football mode on the side-lines of Croke Park where his team Laois take on Conor Laverty's Down in the Tailteann Cup Final.

‘I guess I’m like every other coach and manager in Gaelic football at every level. I have a job outside of my sport, I do my job like everyone else does. That’s it.’ McNulty said in an interview with extra.ie.

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Controversy did arise in juggling his two jobs however when the SDLP MLA left Stormont by helicopter to attend Laois’s Division 4 league match against Wexford in Wexford Park on Saturday February 3 - the day of the restoration of the North’s Executive.

SDLP MLA Justin McNulty. Photograph: Presseye/Stephen HamiltonSDLP MLA Justin McNulty. Photograph: Presseye/Stephen Hamilton
SDLP MLA Justin McNulty. Photograph: Presseye/Stephen Hamilton

The involvement of a helicopter created a lot of national headlines at the time and the SDLP suspended McNulty.

“It was a unique situation. It was a Saturday evening sitting of the Assembly, which was just bizarre, and I had to be in two places at the one time and the only way to make it work was to do what I had to do,” he said.

“All I’m focusing on is being the best I can be. I’m obviously focused on fulfilling my responsibilities as an MLA. I’m hugely honoured to be the representative of the people of Newry/Armagh and to be elected to do so. I’m hugely honoured to be an SDLP MLA and hugely honoured to be the Laois Gaelic football manager.’

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McNulty returned to the role of Laois manager this year following a successful stint in 2011 when the county reached Division 1. And while the drop to Division 4 in recent years has been disappointing for the county, they are on a winning trajectory at present.

Last year Laois were hammered by Down 8-16 to 2-12 in the semi-final of the Tailteann Cup in Croke Park but with McNulty back at the helm this season has been another successful one. Laois won the league title and promotion to Division 3, and now have a chance to take revenge on Down and bring the Tailteann Cup back to the O'Moore County.

McNulty knows exactly what it's like to bring silverware home from Croke Park, as he was a member of the 2002 team that won the Sam Maguire for Armagh. His teammate from that All-Ireland winning team, Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney, will be waiting in the wings on Saturday for his sides All-Ireland Championship semi-final clash with Kerry to follow. And while the silverware McNulty is hoping for may not be as prestigious as the prize Armagh’s seek, the Tailteann Cup is still a trophy that took a lot of hard work to get within reach of and is also a ticket to top tier championship football next season.

“I’m hugely privileged to be in the environment that I’m in, hugely privileged to be working with the Laois players and hugely privileged to be in the Tailteann Cup final.”

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