Relaxing in his front room, Steve McNulty cuts a refreshed figure. Since the end of the season he’s enjoyed two holidays in Turkey – one with the kids and one without.
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone on the Wirral who thinks the 35-year-old hasn’t earned them.
One of the most recognisable individuals in lower league football, he made 165 appearances for Tranmere Rovers, captaining the Birkenhead side to a double promotion that has catapulted them from the National League back to their more natural League One habitat.
But such is the ruthless nature of professional football, legendary status alone cannot guarantee you a new contract, as McNulty soon discovered.
“The week after the play-off final, I had a conversation with the manager (Micky Mellon) on the Tuesday. After that I probably realised that I was going to be leaving,” he said.
“I spoke to him a couple of times before the season ended about staying on and becoming part of the coaching staff.
“A few things were promised that didn’t materialise. That was it, done and dusted. I had one conversation with him and I haven’t spoken to him since. I went away on holiday then.”
Despite his obvious disappointment at leaving Prenton Park, the former Liverpool youth prospect clearly has professional admiration for his now ex-boss.
“I haven’t got a bad word to say about him,” he said. “I’d worked with him before at Fleetwood. We had a great working relationship. He’s probably got some of the best years’ football out of me. He knows what buttons to press.
“If you spoke to him he would probably say that I have repaid the favour with my performances and the success we’ve had together.”
McNulty was once a mainstay in Mellon’s back four, but injury midway through the last campaign effectively curtailed his season.
“It was just the games caught up on me,” he said. “For the past eight or nine seasons I’ve probably played 50-plus games. It’s very rare that I miss a game, but I’m a bit older now and it takes my body longer to recover.
“I just had a bit of tendonitis in my Achilles. I played on with it for three or four weeks. It caught up with me and I had to stop training and playing.”
With Tranmere relegated to Non-League football, McNulty was brought to Prenton Park, initially on loan, in 2015 by Mellon’s predecessor Gary Brabin.
Although Brabin couldn’t earn promotion, he is credited for making smart acquisitions during his tenure, something McNulty acknowledges.
“He was great with me, good to work under and had a good group of lads – a good side. I don’t know what happened between him and the fans. They just didn’t really take a shine to him, for what reason I don’t know. And that was it,” said McNulty.
“The core of the team that got promoted back to League Two was probably most of the players that he’d brought to the club. I got on really well with him.
“Towards the end, the team that got promoted to League One probably was different to the team that got out of the Conference but the spine of the team was still his players.”
Even casual observers of McNulty’s career will recognise him as a dominant vocal leader who commands respect from opponents and teammates alike. But off the pitch, he is a significantly more withdrawn character.
“People get the wrong perspective of me really. They think I’m going to be dead loud and boisterous but it’s not me. I’m probably a bit shy off the pitch really. I don’t like talking to the press and stuff like that, unless I really have to.
“I just like to keep myself to myself and go in and do my job. You get brought to the football club to do a job. I’m not one that needs patting on the back and telling that I’ve done well. You do get lads in football who want to bask in it, but that’s just not me as a person.”
Signing an initial one-year contract, McNulty will now ply his trade in the National League North for Steve Watson’s York City, as they set about climbing their way back to Football League status.
“The phone just went out of the blue one day,” he said. “I don’t normally answer numbers that I don’t know but, for some reason, I ended up answering it and it was Steve, below.
“I was looking at going part-time and I was meant to be getting a coaching job off Tranmere and taking a development team there.
“But I kept in contact with him while I was on holiday with the family and when I got back I went and met him. After we sat down and he told me about his ambitions and the club’s ambitions, I just wanted to be part of it.”
McNulty wasn’t short of clubs seeking his services, but the uncertain nature of looking for a new contract is not lost on him.
“It is the best job in the world,” he added. “Every young lad – they want to be a footballer. But once your contract is up it’s the worst job in the world because you don’t know where your next pay cheque is coming from.
“Things have happened at Tranmere to a few of my mates and they’re still struggling to get clubs.”
With his future secured at Bootham Crescent for next season, McNulty had a message for York fans.
“Back the team. Back the lads. They’ve got a very ambitious manager and the chairman is backing him,” he added. “We are confident as a group that we will be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.”
By Richard Garnett