BY CHRIS MCNULTY
LEGENDARY Boston Celtics Head Coach Red Aurebach is a man credited with reshaping and redefining the NBA.
With the Celtics in the 1950s and 60s, Aurebach won nine NBA championships. Aurebach’s Celtics were defined by their defensive approach, hitting teams with fast, deadly breaks. The Celtics had a ‘dynasty’ with Aurebach at the controls and with defence as their cornerstone.
“There will be nights when your shots won’t fall, but you can play good defence every night,” Aurebach once explained.
It’s a philosophy with which Damien McNulty would agree.
After suffering a first defeat of the season last Friday night at Shelbourne, Finn Harps aim to get back to winning ways against Wexford Youths tonight at Finn Park – and defender McNulty says the key ingredient for the season will rest in their ability to keep a watertight rearguard.
“Every good team has a good backbone and that’s what we’re aiming to get here this season,” he said.
“If we do that, we should be ok.
“From what we’ve seen so far, there’s no-one that you’d fear. There are obviously good teams in the Division, but if we play like we can we can be a very good team too. There is no reason that we can’t do well.
“As a defender, first and foremost you want to keep a clean sheet. We need to get back to winning ways this week, simple as that.
“We need to look after our home form.
“Athlone had a really good home record last year and won the Division off the back of that. We have to try to make Finn Park a bit of a fortress. We’ll try to make it uncomfortable for teams, make it tough for them to get anything here.”
Harps kept a clean sheet in three of their first four League games.
Ollie Horgan has brought a new system to Finn Park, with McNulty playing alongside Packie Mailey and Keith Cowan as the three centre-backs. Depending on the game situation in motion, Ciaran Coll and James Doherty act as both the old-fashioned winger or auxiliary full-backs; the modern-day ‘wing-back’.
McNulty has been taken by the new role.
He said: “We seem to be more disciplined and more solid so far and it’s down to the formation and the system we’re playing. It’s a big help having Ciaran and James out wide. The system suits us. When we don’t have possession it’s like having five at the back, but when we have it the two boys can really push on.”
The 23-year-old Derryman is in his second season in Ballybofey after being signed from Coleraine by then manager Peter Hutton last January. McNulty had a previous stint with Limavady United.
When Harps came calling, it gave McNulty a chance to give himself a new lease of life.
“I didn’t know much about Harps before I came up,” he said.
“I knew Blaine Curtis who was at the club at the time. I knew the club had history and I obviously knew who
‘Pizza’ (Peter Hutton) was from playing for Derry. I was enjoying it at Coleraine, but I broke a bone in my foot and was out for a few games. When I came back I got another injury and was just getting frustrated with things.
“I knew that the First Division would be a tough League. I spoke to a few people who played in it and they all said about how tough, how physical it was.”
McNulty played nineteen times for Harps last season and has started the 2014 campaign as one of the leading lights in the side.
His form has been immense so far and there are signs that he could become one of Harps’ most important figures. A no-nonsense centre-back, he has also proven quite a handful when attacking set-pieces, although he is still waiting for his first Harps goal.
“I’m really enjoying my football here,” he said.
“I was injured for a bit of last year again, but I feel a good buzz. Hopefully we can keep that going and take the club back up where it needs to be.
“Finn Harps is a big club. We saw last year when we played Derry and Drogheda in the Cups what a big crowd can do. As a team, we did well in those games too which gave us a lot of confidence. It showed us that we can compete.”
With a dearth of attacking options, Harps headed for Tolka Park last week hoping to keep a tight lid on Shels. Sean McCarron and Kevin McHugh scored 21 goals last season in the League, but both are out injured, so the burden of responsibility rests on other shoulders.
“We have a lot of attacking options now with Pat (McCann), Mickey (Funston) and Carel (Tiofack) all in there as well as the front boys,” McNulty pointed out.
“We have more goals coming from elsewhere this year. Last year we maybe relied too much on the goals of the strikers. Everyone is chipping in now and we’ll need to keep that up.
“We just couldn’t score against Shelbourne. The goals were terrible to give away, the free kick is just one of those things and they caught us on the break for the penalty they scored in the last minute.
“Last week is done and dusted now. The stats of the game showed that we weren’t far away. We had the better of the possession, but there’s no point crying about it now. We just need to move forward and get a win against Wexford.”
When Hutton quit his post on the penultimate weekend of the season, everything was up in the air. The arrival of Horgan as the manager in November raised eyebrows. McNulty was unsure – but his first meeting with Horgan convinced him that he was returning to Finn Park. Now, he wants to keep the crowds filing through the turnstiles.
He said: “I hadn’t a clue what was happening, but I spoke to Ollie and found him very professional and very genuine. I knew after the first discussion that I had with him that I wanted to sign back with Harps.
“I had it in my mind that I wanted to sign back anyway – just to put the things right from last season. We want a bit of pride back here again.
“At the end of the season, we were playing some games and maybe only 100-200 people here. There’s a good buzz back here now and the crowds have been good. When there’s people here it gives you more of an incentive, it’s like we have to do it to keep all the fans happy.”
McNulty came into a Harps team last year that openly spoke of their ambitions to win promotion. They talked the talk and walked the walk for a while at the start of the campaign, before the season quickly began to unravel. These days you won’t hear too much talk of the Premier Division around Navenny Street.
“We haven’t set ourselves any objectives, not after the way last season panned out,” McNulty said.
“We want to get respect back in here again and want to get the crowd back. There’s no good in getting carried away after a handful of matches. The likes of Galway and Longford are the teams with the big budgets and the big expectations. We’re just five games into the season.”
Horgan’s hard-working philosophy sits well with McNulty. Another quote from Aurebach’s era at the Celtics springs to mind: ‘An acre of performance is worth a whole world of promise.’