Paul Flynn: 'What I did in 2011 doesn't compare to 2015'
In his presentation to the insightful 'Sporting Excellence' conference, hosted by former Mayo manager James Horan at the Breaffy House resort two weekends ago, Professor Niall Moyna shone a light on the symbiotic nature of the relationship between Donegal's Michael Murphy and Dublin's Paul Flynn during their time on DCU's campus.
For illustration, Moyna highlighted two photographs; one with both men exchanging handshakes before a game between their counties wearing their stern game faces, the other a more relaxed profile of the pair together smiling during a moment of down-time.
They were, in their old DCU manager's words, "inseparable" and consequently fed off each other to become better players and better people.
What Murphy gained from Flynn's perfectionist's touch, he gave back with his technical acumen. They'd kick a ball over and back for hours - left, right, instep, outside of the boot.
You put that element of Moyna's address to Flynn and he finds himself recalling a particular moment in 2010 to capture where they were and just how far they have come.
Cork were just crowned All-Ireland champions, Murphy's Donegal were only in the embryonic stages of Jim McGuinness' revolution, while Flynn's roots with a recovering Dublin had not yet bedded down fully.
"I remember the day, as clear as crystal," said Flynn. "There are big bay windows in the DCU dorms, I was sitting on the window, he was sitting on the couch. Cork had won the All-Ireland. And we were saying to ourselves that we'd both retire if we won one All-Ireland.
"That's all we wanted in life, one All-Ireland, one All Star and you've reached the pinnacle. That's five years ago, it's not a lifetime ago and over the next two years we both did it, won All-Irelands, won an All Star.
"We were in the same course, we palled around with each other, we spent most of Monday to Friday together. You're bouncing off one another, ideas. You're thinking about your game, thinking about things that maybe didn't go well and that you could build on.
"I think it does have a really big impact. I think it is no different than being in an inter-county set-up. I've learned a lot from other players in the Dublin set-up."
Five-and-a-half years on and both men can see a lot of distance between the athletes they were then and now.
After four successive years as an All Star he didn't even get a nomination in 2015, yet all his own 'key performance indicators' (KPIs) suggest to him that he was actually better in 2015 than he was in 2011, the first year in the sequence.
The difference is expectation. What Flynn did in 2011, is no longer enough in 2016.
"If I took 2011 and placed it in 2015 I don't think it even compares," he said. "I didn't score 2-6 in 2011 (he shot 1-4). Last year I scored 2-6 and that's supposed to be a bad year.
"It's (scores) not ideally what I measure my game on either and obviously I've got KPIs around tackles, kick-outs won, breaking ball and all those aspects, complete passes.
"When I piece it all together and when I look back over my own game evaluation, there is no doubt that 2015, for me, wasn't as good as 2014, but it was better than 2011.
"It's about expectation. What's the last thing you remember in 2014? Four points in a half against Donegal. And if you don't go out in the next game people think you're playing bad. Part of it too then is that you start thinking 'am I playing bad?' It's a mix of both.
"I'm not trying to cover for 2015 saying that I reached my own potential, which is the most important thing. I don't think I did. But I do feel that I had a better season than 2011. It's a funny dynamic when I do a bit of evaluating on the field.
"We've had the same stats guys for the last number of years and the stats speak for themselves. But stats are stats. It's not Moneyball here, there's obviously a game to be played here as well. But they were strong. I always use them to build on my performance so it's just interesting (the perception that he hadn't a good year)."
An aggravating groin issue wasn't enough to put him off the road but it rankled nonetheless, took a small part of his mind elsewhere.
"Sports at this level is all about being injury-free and being able to go into every game and not worry about anything other than playing that game.
"When you have chronic injuries, they definitely have (an impact), even if it's a couple of per cent. It has an effect on your approach and mindset to games."
He has learned to pick his moments of intervention with more precise timing now, an economy gear has replaced the 'foot-to-the-floor' attitude he once had.
"In 2011 everything was frantic. I was going at 100 miles per hour when I had the ball, going 110 miles per hour when I didn't have the ball," he recalled.
"That's not something I have taken away from my game. It's what my game is built on, about energy, high intensity, tackles and putting myself about and covering the ground.
"But what I've done is honed in on that. I don't waste much energy now in those games. In those games in 2011, and maybe even in 2012 a small bit, I was tiring out in games, wastefully exerting energy," he explained.
"Now I feel I can judge in games when I need to go and when I need to rest and when I need to sit and hold shape. My game sense has developed, something that is not as quantifiable as kicking scores but it's a really important aspect of it.
"The other aspect (of improvement) is execution, good technique is something I continuously develop and work really, really hard on.
"If you take that game sense and then the execution and look at them in isolation in 2011, and look at them again in 2016 now, I have steadily improved year on year."
He'll be 30 in July and that brings its own sense of perspective and fear, not just as a footballer but as a person, he concedes.
"There's a fear part to it, maybe more of an unknown about life than being a player.
"You think you're a young lad then, lo and behold, you're 30 and life is gone past. I think it's a great year to play football, you're at a level where you know your capabilities, you know what you can do, you know how to get your performance, you understand your body, you understand your mind. It's easier to piece it all together."
He has come a long way since he sat in those bay windows with Murphy and they allowed themselves to dream.
And, sure enough, if he was forced to check out now, he feels he could be proud of what he achieved.
"But that's not the case. It's a different dynamic, I'm still playing, I'm still young enough to be able to play to a very high level.
"There are more All-Irelands in this team. Some have gone by us, we could have got one or two more over the last five years but we could have lost one or two as well. At this stage the goals are collective and it's about making sure that Dublin reach their potential."
Paul Flynn is a Setanta Sports ambassador and was speaking ahead of Dublin's clash with Donegal in the Allianz League tonight. The game is live on Setanta Ireland. To subscribe, go to www.setanta.com.