Dublin: 8°C Thursday 17 June 2021

'We had a few beers and Paul was crying on the tour bus. He kept saying: I cannot believe I've won an All-Ireland'

With six All-Irelands, 10 Leinster titles, five National Leagues and four consecutive All-Stars, Paul Flynn is set to be remembered as one of Dublin’s all-time greats.

Flynn celebrates beating Mayo in the 2016 All-Ireland football final replay.
Flynn celebrates beating Mayo in the 2016 All-Ireland football final replay.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“AT THE END of the day, Paul was an apprentice plumber by trade. He started off doing plumbing in Swords when he was a teenager, but wanted to achieve more. He went back to college in DCU. Re-skilled. Became a PE teacher, and now look where he is. He’s won six-All-Irelands, 10 Leinsters, four All-Stars and is CEO of the GPA.”

Wayne Knight bristles with pride recalling his days spent playing alongside Paul Flynn back when the Dublin ace was just a teenager in the mid-noughties. He also happily recalls more recent memories of managing Fingallians when Flynn helped the north Dublin side back into Division 1 after years in the wilderness. Back-to-back promotions they achieved side-by-side in 2017 and 2018, one patrolling the touchline, the other controlling the half-forward line.

His old manager has plenty of stories to tell about ‘Flynner’, having known him for so many years and witnessed Paul grow from a boy into a man. The overriding sentiment is pure pride having watched his former team-mate evolve from a diamond in the rough, a “wild player” who liked the physical side of the game, to establishing himself as one of Dublin GAA’s all-time greats and arguably one of the greatest forwards in modern times.

“The guy just wanted to achieve all the time,” former Fingallians boss Knight says of Flynn. “I always say to any players growing up or any parents that are involved with the club to see Paul as an inspiration. Because that guy is an inspiration to everyone, even to myself.”

Paul Flynn celebrates scoring a goal Flynn celebrates scoring a goal against Kerry in the 2016 Allianz Football League final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Dublin will walk out at O’Moore Park later this evening for what players and supporters will hope is the first step towards immortality. No side in the history of gaelic football has ever won five consecutive All-Irelands before and the hype surrounding the ‘drive for five’ is unavoidable this summer. It all starts today.

Sure, it’s all about the process, taking your learnings week on week and going at it one game at a time, nothing more, nothing less. But make no bones about it, the objective for Jim Gavin’s men is clear and the path is set out firmly in front of them — their goal of lifting Sam Maguire potentially just eight games and 14 weeks away.

They say the making of great sides is an innate hunger to keep on winning, even when it would make perfect sense to have no appetite left at all. Dublin have won Sam Maguire six times in the past eight years. A haul which has already created an unforgettable legacy beyond what any Dubs supporter thought possible a decade ago. But they still want more.

Today’s Leinster quarter-final meeting with Louth is the first step in what could be an historic campaign for the defending champions, to try and better their own standards again and set records of even greater heights. But one man’s absence in Portlaoise will be felt more deeply than most others this evening as Dublin prepare for their first championship campaign without him in over eleven years.

Paul Flynn made his inter-county championship debut just over a decade ago for Dublin in a 2008 meeting with Westmeath at Croke Park. Since that day, as his former manager alluded to, the Fingallians man has collected six All-Irelands, 10 Leinster titles, five National Leagues and was rewarded with four consecutive All-Stars between 2011 and 2014.

Paul Flynn celebrates with the Sam Maguire The forward won six All-Irelands during an exemplary career. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Last month he decided to call it a day at the age of 32. “While my heart says play on, unfortunately my body says it’s time to call it a day,” he said. “It’s an enormous privilege to play for your county and I feel incredibly lucky and proud that I got to play for Dublin for as long as I have. Dublin football has played a huge part in my life and I will be forever grateful for all that it has given me.”

It’s a somewhat bitter-sweet ending, with Flynn forced to bring the curtain down on his inter-county career at just 32. It’s an age where you could have seen him play on for another couple of seasons, at least, and added to his incredible 20-strong trophy cabinet before winding down towards his mid-to-late thirties.

But for a player who demanded such a high level of performance from himself week on week, year on year, and an attacker who has re-defined what it means to be a half-forward through his relentless workrate, stamina and running ability, the body eventually gave in and could no-longer match those exceedingly high standards Flynn expected of himself.

Tributes have poured in for the Fingallians man ever since he announced his inter-county retirement at the start of May, owing to recent groin and back injuries. Niall Moyna, his old professor at DCU and former Sigerson manager during his time at university, recalls Flynn as a model pro both on the field and in the lecture hall too.

The forward was largely overlooked in Dublin panels at minor and underage levels and credits his arrival at DCU as one of the biggest turning points in his career.

Niall Moyna DCU manager Professor Niall Moyna managed Paul Flynn during two Sigerson title successes. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Combining his studies alongside Sigerson football, all the while rooming with future All-Ireland winners Michael Murphy and Aidan Walsh in Glasnevin for the guts of four years, changed his career path completely. After doing his Leaving Cert, Flynn spent a few years working as a plumber for Lynskey Engineering before deciding to pursue third level education.

“I always think of Paul Flynn: the student,” says Moyna, who taught him on the PE and Education Bachelor’s degree. “He was one of the most exemplary students. I mean, you can see why he’s been so successful. He brought the exact same to his studies. He was just driven to be the best. He could have taken the easy option and, you know, got his degree and got a pass.

But he wanted to be first in the class. Not alone would Paul go to his lectures, he would also put an hour aside for every lecture that he went to. I’d say he probably studied five or six hours a day. He was just meticulous.

“He won two Sigersons with me. In the first Sigerson final he ran himself into the ground. We had the semi-final on the Friday and the final on a Saturday. I remember he ran himself to a pulp. We had to take him off with 10 minutes to go – he wasn’t fit to move. And in the second final a year later in 2012, he just gave an exhibition. He got man-of-the-match.”

Moyna believes that Flynn and Donegal star Murphy living together had a seismic impact on both players. They would each make time for extra kicking sessions down in the university’s training centre, St Clare’s, in order to improve their game. They would both taste All-Ireland and All-Star success just a few short years after crossing paths.

“He and Michael Murphy were very friendly,” remembers Moyna. “Michael, no disrespect to him, wouldn’t have had the same drive academically as Paul. Paul had a transformative effect on Michael and I think Michael had the same effect on Paul’s football. It was a wonderful time when both of them came here.

Philly Ryan, Paul Flynn and Michael Murphy Flynn and Michael Murphy (both right) lived together for four years in DCU. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I think they both needed each other for two totally different reasons: one for an academic reason and the other from a sporting perspective. They fed off each other. Instead of it being each man developing their own individual pursuits, they worked together for the greater good. They supported each other both academically and sporting-wise.”

Flynn, Murphy, Rob Hennelly, Philly McMahon, Dean Rock, Aidan Walsh and James McCarthy were just some of the star names that featured as DCU secured back-to-back Sigerson titles. Moyna was involved with the Dublin senior footballers a few months before any of this university success and recalls an emotional Flynn after beating Kerry in the 2011 decider at Croke Park.

He is a born leader,” Moyna states. “But not alone that, he is such a genuine, nice individual. Paul Flynn is a guy you’d love your daughter to marry. Put a jersey on him and he turns into a warrior.

“Take the jersey off him and he is an absolute gentleman. You can’t give anyone a greater compliment than that. He is an absolutely wonderful human being with all the attributes you would want for someone to be your friend. I know his parents as well, he is a humble, family man too.

“It’s funny, the night he won his first All-Ireland against Kerry I remember we had a few beers on the tour bus. We were standing there together and he was crying. He just kept saying: ‘I cannot believe I’ve won an All-Ireland.’ I’ll never forget it.

Pat Gilroy, Paul Flynn and Bernard Brogan Manager Pat Gilroy celebrates the final whistle with Paul Flynn and Bernard Brogan. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“The two of us were there together and the girl from RTÉ News was asking him about it. He was so humble about it all. For him, he just couldn’t believe that someone like Paul Flynn could win an All-Ireland. And boy has he gone on from there.”

For Danny Campion, a long-time colleague of Flynn’s at Fingallians, the popular AIB television advertisement produced a few years back epitomises his team-mate perfectly. A well-oiled machine with a relentless engine which didn’t know when to call it quits.

“I know Paul since we were probably about 11 or 12. Paul had a raw motivation and determination,” recalls Campion. “I always remember that, because my football style was always built on hard work.

I was never particularly skilled at anything and I remember seeing Paul and he was always the most energetic, the most driven, the most motivated. He was always the centre of focus, even at underage level when we were kids. He was always the guy everybody would be looking at.

“Not necessarily because he was kicking 70 yard passes or anything like that, but just because of his drive, really. It was contagious and as a young kid you look up at that and it inspired me, because that was the kind of player I was as well. I had to graft for everything from a very young age, and he was the perfect example of that.

“It was all drive, motivation, positive energy. Other people might just say ‘Oh he was a very, very talented young fella’. For me, it wasn’t even talent. It was just drive. That AIB ad of Flynner with the engine… all that energy was poured into the engine and he was really able to focus it.”

Source: AIB Bank/YouTube

A proud clubman simultaneously, though. Campion says that Flynn’s nature as an approachable, grounded man away from the hectic lifestyle of the Dublin set-up meant he carried zero ego or notions about himself into a Fingallians dressing room. Even if Flynn had earned the right to boast, that just wasn’t his style one bit.

“He’ll slag me if he reads this” Campion laughs. “But he’s a gent, he’s a true gentleman. One thing I found about him, and every one of his club team-mates here would say the same thing, he never walked down to Fingallians as ‘Paul Flynn the Dublin player’. He walked down with a Fingallians crest on his chest, proud.

He never came back into the fold thinking he was an elite or that he was better than anyone else. He came back with the same energy he applied to Dublin. He brought that back to us. It made him very, very approachable. He was still ‘Flynner’, who you’ve played with for ten years.

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“We had a league game last night [Wednesday] at home. He didn’t play because he had injured his calf, but he was still there on the sideline and he was as interested, as enthusiastic, as motivated and as encouraging as anyone had ever seen him in any All-Ireland final.

“If you do ever speak to him one-on-one or have a conversation with him, you’re just talking to the man. You’re not talking to the All-Stars or the All-Irelands. And that’s really one of the reasons why he has so much respect around our club. He’s the same guy he has been for the 20 odd years I’ve known him.”

Paul Flynn with Michael Murphy at the end of the game Paul Flynn amd Murphy shake hands after the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

For many, the legacy that Flynn leaves behind is something of an enigma. Lay it bare on the table, count up the medals and individual honours and Paul Flynn could rightly be counted as one of the modern game’s all-time greats — not that he would make that argument himself.

But in a generation of Dublin footballers who each have an abundance of All-Ireland medals and All-Stars to boast, iconic figures like Stephen Cluxton, James McCarthy, Bernard Brogan and Diarmuid Connolly, where does Flynn rank? And has he gotten the recognition he deserves as one of only four players to ever receive four All-Stars in a row alongside Jack O’Shea, Pat Spillane and Paidi Ó Sé?

I don’t think he does get the recognition he deserves, to be honest,” attests his old manager Wayne Knight. “I think it’s only when you step out of the game that people realise how much they’ve done for the game. It’s when he’s gone away people will realise how good Paul Flynn is and the career he has had.”

“There was a long period in Dublin’s history when if you had six All-Irelands they’d create a statue in memory of you,” adds Niall Moyna. “But they’re a dime a dozen now! To be fair, I think there is an awareness particularly among Dublin GAA fans, and I think in the wider community, that Paul was a one-off.

“He brought the whole half-forward play into a whole modern era with his ability to play on both sides, both defence and offence, his ability to work, and those amazing points that he could score with the outside of his boot. He brought a whole new dimension to the game.

“I think,” Moyna continues, “in fairness, if you win six All-Irelands you are put on a pedestal. I think he will get the recognition he deserves now. But for years to come, he will be seen as one of the all-time greats for Dublin and certainly one of the all-time greats as a wing half-forward.

“His legacy is transformative. I think he will be seen in a similar light as James McCarthy and Stephen Cluxton. He brought a unique attribute to the whole half-forward position. He is the prototype of the modern half forward. Not alone was he a brilliant, well put-together athlete. He had a football intelligence and football nouse, and he also had the football skills.

I think, obviously Stephen [Cluxton] will be remembered as having a unique contribution to goalkeeping and I think James McCarthy, long-term, will become the most decorated gaelic football player in history. Paul is right up there with them.”

It seems that perhaps one of Paul Flynn’s greatest, most enduring legacies to gaelic games, then, will not just be the medals and the trophies accumulated throughout a glittering career, but the fact that he has helped reinvent an entire position on the field of play.

Experts, team-mates and colleagues alike all agree that he helped carve out what it means to be a modern half-forward. Dynamic, hard-working with good handling, a robust engine, thorough work-rate and a willingness to dig deep in both defence and attack for the greater good.

Paul Flynn celebrates with his parents Paul Flynn celebrates with his parents after the 2015 All-Ireland final against Kerry. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Not flashy, not always silky, but a core engine which helped drive the entire team forward. Consistent, always to be relied upon and still maintaining a fundamental ability to kick crucial scores, particularly from distance as more and more teams have evolved to incorporate a blanket defence system.

“When you think about a GAA athlete who is almost like a winger in rugby, or like a professional Olympian whose stats are through the roof, you think of Paul Flynn straight away,” says team-mate Danny Campion. “Because he really is a model for the new wave of player.”

In his retirement statement released three weeks ago, Flynn said he will continue club football with Fingallians and that he is looking forward to trying help establish the north Dubliners as a true force in Division 1, having clawed their way into the top-tier through back-to-back promotions over recent seasons.

It is just such a shame, Campion says, that it was injury setbacks that has forced his inter-county retirement at the age of 32. That said, it would have been very easy to try and hang on this year of all years, his team-mate says.

With Dublin gunning for a historic fifth All-Ireland in a row, Campion says it is a true measure of the man — the maturity, class and dignity of his colleague — that he has made the decision to call it quits even when the chance to be a part of history is there in front of him.

Instead allowing for younger players like Brian Howard, Cormac Costello, Colm Basquel, Con O’Callaghan and many others to come through as part of the next generation, it seems like Flynn’s decision to step away — in what could be a monumental season for Dublin — is a choice which shows everyone the true measure of the man.

Paul Flynn The 32-year-old is now CEO of the Gaelic Players Association. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Not bound by an individual desire to collect another medal and potentially be there to lift Sam in the drive for five. But instead a selflessness to bow out when he feels the time is right, when he can no-longer contribute to the exceedingly high standards which has made him the player he has been for so long.

“As soon as I heard the news, my respect for the man went up ten fold,” says his Fingallians team-mate Campion. “It would have been very, very easy to potentially put a five-in-a-row All-Ireland medal in his back pocket. But he would have done it on the back of other players. He is still a good enough footballer to make that starting XV, but he is struggling with injury and there are a lot of new, young players coming through and they need their chance.

“Jim Gavin picks his team based off performances, you don’t get by on your name, but Paul wouldn’t be getting by on just his name. He would probably get 10 or 15 minutes in the semi-final and in the final and he would be able to lift the Sam Maguire and do all that.

I think most people would have gladly taken the five-in-a-row, break the record, put the medal in your back pocket, thanks very much. And nobody would have begrudged him, because of his service.

“But I think he made such a brilliant decision and it does show a measure of the man. He is acknowledging the guys coming through – it’s their time. He wouldn’t really want that medal because he hadn’t been as much a part of it as he would have wanted to be. That’s not me saying that, he’d say that himself. He would want to be a much, much bigger part of an All-Ireland win to earn the medal.

“He wants to earn everything, that’s what I’m always saying about Paul – it’s not raw talent that got Paul where he is, it’s his desire to earn his place. I think it was an absolutely amazing and selfless decision to make. I don’t even know if I’d be able to do that if I was in that position. The temptation is there to get into the record books to be in the team that won the fifth All-Ireland in a row.

Paul Flynn Flynn in action during the 2018 All-Ireland semi-final against Galway. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“I’d say this to Paul himself: if he is in the stands in Croke Park in September if Dublin do win it and he is looking down… what he is looking down on is something that he helped build. He was the prototype of the new style of football.

“He is insanely athletic, he is driven, he is motivated, he is hard-working. He was one of these wing-forwards that just had to do everything – had to cover the full-back line, had to get up and kick points, had to win breaking ball in midfield.

“He really was the prototype of what any footballer wants to be now. That old-school style of ‘kick and catch’ is gone. The new footballer is Paul Flynn. Everyone is trying to be Paul Flynn now. Players at the top level these days are all massively hard-working, they are all very very fit, very skilled, very capable, very driven.

Paul should look down and think to himself: ‘I helped build that, I was a model for that, I was one of the guys who helped establish this new way of making GAA into the professional sport it has become.’

“It would be a hard moment for him if Dublin do go all the way and win the five-in-a-row,” Campion adds. “But he can look down proudly and know he helped build all of this.

“And for him to give up his opportunity to potentially win the five-in-a-row so other young lads coming through get their chance… that’s an incredible thing to do. It’s just a measure of the man. That’s who Paul Flynn is. Selfless.”

This evening’s Leinster quarter-final clash against Louth could be the first step in a historic journey for Dublin as they seek a fifth All-Ireland title to make it into the history books.

Paul Flynn won’t be there amongst the panel for the first time in over a decade, but his legacy lives on in the minds of all Dublin supporters both now and for years to come.

The Fingallians man has made his own piece of history which he can be proud of. A legacy which may only be truly appreciated with his absence.

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Aaron Gallagher

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