Former GAA star to run for the SDLP in Newry and Armagh…

So the SDLP throw a ringer into the Newry and Armagh Westminster fight. He’s Mullaghbawn man Justin McNulty, whose major claim to fame is not politics but GAA. The man he’s contesting, Mickey Brady was himself relatively new to the game in 2007 when Sinn Fein took back the Newry seat they’d lost when Davy Hyland left the party.

I spoke earlier at length with Kevin McCallister on Q Radio in Newry:

It’s an interesting card to play, not least because there’s a strong sense the party has been losing ground in the GAA in rural Ulster. In any other party you’d say it was a gamble, but with the SDLP they have little to lose in this the last constituency they lost directly to Sinn Fein.

Brady’s candidacy is being interpreted as a means for Conor Murphy to return to Stormont from Westminster exile (SF MPs have no direct income of their own, and are deployed wherever and however the leadership sees fit) to Stormont having pretty much done what was asked of him.

It is probably fair to say that Brady at 63 years of age has been a solid enough constituency worker where he (like McNulty) was first brought in for his non party based social activism, but he is unlikely to set the world as a parliamentarian.

Unusually for such SDLP/SF faceoffs, McNulty at 39 is almost a whole generation younger than his SF counterpart. Interesting too that the SDLP candidate’s home base should be right in the heart of Republican south Armagh.

That said, there’s a 8000 Sinn Fein majority to overturn here. The realistic aim won’t be a Westminster seat, but to blood a replacement for Dominic Bradley and give him a round the constituency.

John Manley in the Irish News reports:

Mr McNulty ended a decade-long career with Armagh’s senior footballers in 2005. He has since managed a number of club and county teams, most notably Laois, where he was in charge for three years up to 2013.

A qualified civil engineer, he recently worked alongside brother Enda, who runs a sports performance consultancy in Dublin. While it is understood the Orchard County All-Ireland winner has had no formal links with the SDLP, he is thought to be a long-time admirer of both Seamus Mallon and John Hume.

One SDLP source last night claimed he would be a “very realistic prospect for Westminster”.

“He ticks all the boxes as far as the SDLP is concerned and will give Sinn Féin a real fight,” the source said. “He showed no quarter on the football field and I’d expect his attitude to be similar competing for this seat.”

More realistically though, cutting the majority may turn out to be the only key metric of his success or failure. McNulty’s (and the SDLP’s) key problem is that he is running for a party which has little or no discernible narrative other than ‘we’re not them‘. Prompting the question, ‘no quarter over what exactly?’

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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