Paul Flynn profile: Making a difference on and off the field
Footballing phenomenon in a Dublin jersey proves himself a phenomenal person in life outside sport
At last year's All-Ireland final, Ciaran McNally, his wife Sally, their daughter Amy and her younger brother John sat in the Davitt Stand.
When the game ended and the Dublin players were doing their lap of honour, the family walked down behind the goals. McNally and his brother Joey caught the attention of Paul Flynn, who ran over, climbed under the net behind the goal and leant in over the barrier to hug Amy.
Flynn knew Ciaran McNally from Fingallians. He had got to know Amy who, since the age of four had undergone chemotherapy for tumours behind her eyes, which left her visually impaired. Flynn hugged Amy and had his picture taken with her. As she was admiring the photograph with her father, Flynn took off his jersey, handed it to Amy and ran away.
Former Dublin and Fingallians player Kieran Duff wasn't surprised. His daughter Ciara was in the Central Remedial Clinic in 2011 when Flynn and the Dublin squad brought the Sam Maguire there after the All-Ireland final. Flynn sought her out as soon as he walked in the door. Another kind gesture. Another day made.
"None of that is staged," says former Dublin player, Tomás 'Mossy' Quinn, who is a good friend of Flynn's. "He's not doing it because he knows the cameras are on him or that people are watching. Flynner does it because it is the right thing to do."
Outside of his sparkling football career, that kindness and goodwill is the emblem of Paul Flynn's character, the embodiment of who he really is. On the field, he always makes a difference. He often is the difference. Off the field, Flynn always wants to make a difference.
On the morning of big games, Flynn takes a familiar walk from home to a cemetery to pause over two graves. He talks to two friends about the day ahead. About what's on his mind. It helps Flynn to embrace the challenge ahead. It also helps him cherish every day of his life.
Ciaran Ennis was a friend who died of cancer when he was 18. Flynn knew Alan Leech through football and Fingallians. They grew up together on the same road. They played on the same teams. One evening in March 2011, Flynn was on his way home. He saw Alan sitting on a wall. They said hello but didn't stop to chat. A few days later, Alan was dead.
The news shook Flynn to his core. A week later, he got a straight red card in a league game against Mayo. He wasn't himself. Pat Gilroy saw the struggles and strife raging inside him and suggested he speak to someone. Another friend, David Mitchell, introduced him to Pieta House. As soon as Flynn got help, he wanted to help others.
A couple of months later, Flynn went on the Brendan O'Connor TV show to speak about male suicide. He launched the Pieta House 'Mind our Men' campaign, a movement which encourages people to spot the signs to try and reduce male suicide. He has been an ambassador for Pieta House ever since.
"I don't think people realise how enormous it is for us to have Paul Flynn as an ambassador," says Joan Freeman, founder and CEO of Pieta House. "His own profile is huge but his tentacles reach right across the world. We are taking our 'Darkness into Light' (5km walk/run fundraiser) to three cities in America next May and Paul will help us so much because the GAA is so big in those cities.
"His profile is so important for us but Paul is an extraordinary person because he is representative of the young men who need help the most. And he's not afraid to highlight that problem and encourage other men, especially players, to seek help. That takes enormous courage because a lot of people still don't want to be associated with Pieta House because of what it means."
A couple of weeks back, Flynn called into Pieta House. Freeman was delayed and Flynn sat in the waiting room for over half an hour, drinking tea and chatting to people who were in trouble.
"I can guarantee you, other people would not have done that," says Freeman. "It just shows you the type of person he is. He may not be a counsellor but Paul is our ears and eyes. You can be sure that he has referred people on to us."
In the football world, Flynn has become a phenomenon. Three successive All Stars, one of Dublin's top three players in a squad bursting with talent. He brings a multi-faceted range of dimensions to this Dublin team; one of Stephen Cluxton's favourite kick-out targets, he is also one of Dublin's physical enforcers. Flynn gets big scores and stitches the play together to embroider Dublin's impressive tapestry.
"His level of consistency is unbelievable," says Quinn. "Nobody ever has any doubts that Flynner will deliver every day and people feed off that. Even the leadership qualities he brings, he is such a calming influence. His work rate is huge but you can see his football maturity and intelligence by how he often sits in the pocket to protect the defence when other players attack. He is one of the players who allows Dublin to play the game they play."
In the early days, nobody knew what to expect from Flynn. He was a good club player but he had a temper. Duff was part of Pillar Caffrey's management when they first brought him into the squad in 2007.
"I said to him at the time that we were looking for him to be a Paul Galvin type of player, working hard up and down the field," says Duff.
"Paul's attitude is first-class. He is the nicest fella you could ever meet. He's still the same down-to-earth guy now that he always was but his make-up is that he always wanted to be the best. He wanted to be the best straight away and it took him a couple of years to establish himself. He was often over-aggressive and getting into trouble but I think that attitude of aggression stemmed from wanting to be the best.
"Sometimes, you just don't have the patience to wait. But once he got established and got more confident, and more comfortable with his own game, he took off."
Flynn was very much a tracking wing-forward in Pat Gilroy's defensive system but he is a far more rounded and skilful player now. "Flynner is very competitive by nature and he realised what he needed to do to improve and he did everything he could to get there," says Quinn. "He physically developed into a monster from the gym but he would have asked Bernard (Brogan) and other fellas about shooting and different ways of shooting. That humility to seek advice and take it on board is one of his strongest points."
Going back to college a few years back allowed him to spend more time on his game. He did a plumbing apprenticeship after his Leaving Certificate but being part of a dressing-room full of Sigerson Cup players made him think about another direction. He finished his apprenticeship, saved every cent he had and went to DCU. Flynn finished his degree last summer with first-class honours in PE and Biology.
Outside of football, Flynn is a good golfer. He won a junior hurling championship with Fingallians a few years ago but his sole sporting focus now is on winning more All-Irelands and leaving a lasting legacy. In all forms of his life though, Flynn is already leaving his own unique mark.
"Every time I see Paul, I ask him is he doing a line with anyone because I'm trying to fix him up with my daughter," says Joan Freeman. "That really tells you what I think of him. He is just such a genuine, decent young man.
"I haven't a notion about sport or football. I don't know him as a footballer. I know him as Paul Flynn the person. Most guys at 28-29 are still very much Jack-the-lad types but Paul is mature beyond his years from an emotional and psychological perspective. This guy is just a sincere person who wants to help. And he is already reaching out to people."
Always making a difference. On and off the field.