He wanted to know if he was one of them. In what was a particularly complicated situation, he was negotiating departing two clubs – parent club Reading and Sunderland, where he was then on loan.
On top of this, Hibs, the club he wished to join, who he supported growing up and had enjoyed a fruitful spell at last season, needed to reach agreement with Rangers over the loan of Florian Kamberi before they could bring another attacker in.
McNulty’s own ambitions hinged on this deal going through. Sunderland manager Phil Parkinson excused him from that weekend’s trip to Portsmouth which meant the 27-year-old had little else to do except tune in to Jim White & co on Sky Sports News.
“The amount of messages from family and that asking what’s happening and I’m saying, ‘I don’t know, I know as much as you, when I know something I’ll tell you’,” he recalled. “It was on, then it was off.
“I’ve learned this before. It’s better saying nothing until you’re in the building and it’s done. It was changing but Hibs were brilliant. (Sporting director) Graeme Mathie and (chief executive) Leeann (Dempster) were different class getting the deal done.
“It was on and off a few times on Friday from probably about late Thursday night. I didn’t travel with the squad at Sunderland on Friday. I’d been given the weekend off. The manager said: ‘Look, regardless of what happens, have the weekend off and if I see you Monday, I see you. If not, all the best.’
“That’s where we were at. I live up here and I’ve family up here so I was coming up anyway. I was sitting by the phone waiting for someone to say it was all go.”
Parkinson, who inherited the loan deal McNulty had agreed last summer, consented to cancelling the arrangement if that was what the player really wanted. There was an extra incentive to push for a move back to Hibs. Jack Ross, who had signed him for Sunderland, had since moved on to Hibs and while Parkinson was always respectful of the player, there was one major problem.
“He just didn’t play me!” says McNulty, who was desperate to hook up with Ross again.
The stakes were high in this game of jeopardy. There was the potential for McNulty to be left high and dry and back at Reading, where he has never settled following a reported £1 million move from Coventry in City 2018. He claims this was never something he could accept.
Reading are on to their third manager since McNulty was signed by Paul Clement. Remarkably, come this summer the player will still have two years left of his contract. Whether Hibs can afford buying him then, and whether they wish to, remains to be seen.
It’s now up to McNulty to force the issue. One thing seems certain, he’s done with Reading.
“It was never going to be a case of me going back to Reading,” he said. “I’d be going back there and not making squads and the reason I was leaving Sunderland was to come and play games. I had a couple of options and chose Hibs because of how well I did last time, how much I enjoyed it and I’d worked with the manager before.”
All’s well that ends well and McNulty is back in harness at Hibs with ambitions that stretch to resuscitating an international career that blossomed in tandem with his good form in his last spell at the club. He made his debut in the ill-fated outing against Kazakhstan and came on again, replacing the injured Callum Paterson in the first half, against San Marino in the following game.
It’s not too late for him to stake a claim ahead of the Euro 2020 play-offs at the end of next month, with McNulty likely to feature at some stage in tonight’s high-profile clash with Rangers at Ibrox.
“I do think I am more visible playing in Scotland – 100 per cent,” he said. “If I was at Sunderland, playing every week and scoring goals, then I am sure I would have a better chance.
“But no disrespect to League Two or lower League One teams, I don’t think I’d get a look in playing there. Coming up here, I am in the spotlight a bit more. If I score a few goals, it would probably be easier for the manager to pick me.”
He hopes he and Christian Doidge can get off on a better foot after his new strike partner informed him of a spat they had while playing against each when Coventry City came up against Forest Green in League Two.
“He reminded me that we had a little argument when we played against each other,” McNulty recalled. “He elbowed me or something and he said I went after him. Did I catch him? I can’t actually remember... I think I went after a few people!”