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Ballyea's Paul Flanagan.
# Paul Flanagan
A rethink to develop with Clare, marking Limerick attacking cousin and Munster title bid
Paul Flanagan’s hurling career has enjoyed a major renaissance.

PADRAIG HARRINGTON HAS often suggested that to be really successful in golf, you need to be either incredibly clever or incredibly dim.

Renowned as a deep thinker, the three-time major winner tied himself up in mental knots over the years, deconstructing the biomechanics of his swing and separating out the expression of his right brain from the logic of his left brain.

Overthinking performance isn’t unique to stick and ball games but Harrington does have a kindred spirit in Ballyea and Clare hurler Paul Flanagan.

It wasn’t until 2020 that Flanagan, a brilliant underage player who captained Clare to an All-Ireland U-21 title, finally made his full Championship debut. At the age of 28.

Injuries and rank bad luck – like being ruled out of the 2016 National League final due to concussion protocols, costing him his Championship spot that summer – delayed his development but, to a degree, so too did his own eagerness to succeed.

AIB Munster club finalist Flanagan eventually came to acknowledge that latter point whilst completing a masters degree in mental health, mental skills and performance psychology.

“I probably had come full circle in that I had the experience of how detrimental it can get, and how bad it can get, to see that I needed to find a solution,” said Flanagan of his insatiable appetite for improvement in those years.

“That’s the case for a lot of people. I actually was listening to a bit of Harrington last week and he said he was really mentally sharp for his three majors that he won and found himself not worrying about his swing, not worrying about anything, just concentrating on what he was doing in the moment.

“I’ve probably got better at using those strategies that I know help me to stay in the moment now, to stay concentrated. I’d visualise certain scenarios, these are things that everyone can do really. You have to get yourself from that really poor place to that really good place. And it happens gradually, it doesn’t happen over a week.”

Distilled right down, Flanagan’s big takeaway from his time thinking about, and living, high performance is that you don’t need to be nailing it 24/7. It’s a recipe for, if not burnout, then certainly disappointment.

“It’s probably the biggest thing that I’ve learned that, okay, you can be a dedicated person and you can be one of those guys that shows up all the time and really inhales the detail and wants to get after his nutrition and his performance but one thing I heard that was really interesting was that, as players, we only perform, in terms of actually playing games, 10% of the time and it’s such a narrow window.

“That is the point in time that you need to be at it, or that you need to be in the zone per se. So you’re at a higher level for that point in time but the rest of the time, once you’re pretty consistent you’re going to be in a good place. I think a mix of all those things together has helped me an awful lot.”

One of those 10% moments came for Flanagan and Clare last June in Thurles, the day of the Munster final against Limerick. To add to the intensity of it all, Flanagan had a spell marking his cousin, Seamus, the Limerick forward.

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“No, we didn’t say anything,” claimed Flanagan. “Ah, it’s a funny one in hurling, I find the game moves so quickly and you have so much to worry about anyway. Obviously Seamus had a great Munster final but I did notice it at the time that the game probably moved so quickly that there wasn’t a whole pile of time for anything else. It is I suppose very special for us as a family to have had that.”

It’s back to Thurles today for another of those season defining games, the AIB Munster club final against provincial holders and reigning All-Ireland champions Ballygunner. The trick for Flanagan is to approach it all with a quiet mind, not the easiest thing to do when your last meeting with the same opposition, almost exactly a year ago, ended in a heavy defeat.

“There’s always the chance (of a beating) and obviously we’d be outsiders in terms of Munster,” said the 30-year-old schoolteacher.

“Anyone who was at the Gaelic Grounds for the Na Piarsaigh and Ballygunner semi-final…like, I met a couple of people in school who would be big hurling men and who would have said, ‘No offence now but I think we’re going to go to the Gaelic Grounds at the weekend’ (instead of the Ballyea v St Finbarr’s game).

“And I understand that as well as anyone. We don’t need any reality check in terms of what Ballygunner can do after what they did to us last year in Ennis, a 17-point beating is enough to get your ears pricked up and to be as prepared as possible. All you can do is hope that we can go about our business and target some areas where we think we can try to influence the game.”

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