Flavin stepping out of the shadows
At 32, Connacht hooker Adrian Flavin is hoping to catch Declan Kidney's eye during the province's Heineken Cup adventure, he tells Hugh Farrelly
THE heavy clouds, wind and rain may have painted a different picture yesterday, but this is Connacht's week in the sun. The Heineken Cup... Toulouse... the Sportsground ... you would never have joined those dots a few years ago, but Connacht's 'Jim'll Fix It' dream is about to become reality.
The province has never known such attention. Media requests are flooding in, with Ireland internationals Gavin Duffy, Mike McCarthy and John Muldoon in heavy demand, along with young centre Eoin Griffin -- whose rise to prominence has earned him the tag of 'Grico' from a squad who do not allow anyone to lose the run of themselves.
And that is the ethos of Connacht. This is no place for superstar notions or unchecked egos. It is a haven of hard work and unheralded aspiration, a home for the lesser lights of the Irish professional game, men who have toiled away for years in the shadows and are now ready to step into the glare.
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Adrian Flavin -- the name is familiar to Irish rugby followers. The story not so much.
Born in Harrow in London 32 years ago and educated at noted rugby nursery Mill Hill (where he represented England Schools next to Jonny Wilkinson, Andrew Sheridan and Mike Tindall), the background may be English but the blood is pure Irish.
"I have the English accent but I have always counted myself as Irish," says Flavin. "My whole family is Irish. Both my parents are from Kerry -- my dad is from Ballylongford and mum is from Killorglin.
"They came over separately in the 1960s. Dad was a painter and decorator and mum was a nurse, and they met in Kilburn and every summer as soon as the school year was over we were back to Ireland.
"Dad was always into his sport, he did everything, boxing, weightlifting, GAA -- he was a really good footballer for Ballylongford and played in London too.
"I played football as a full-back with Heston Gaels and we won two Great Britain minor championships -- Kieran Campbell (ex-London Irish, Ulster and Connacht scrum-half) was on that side.
"I went to London Irish when I was five and stayed there for 21 years. My brothers played there too and my parents were massively involved in the club -- mum ran the kit shop and used to do the Irish coffee shop on match days.
"I went straight into a contract with Irish when I finished school -- it was all I wanted to do."
Flavin's first senior coach was Willie Anderson (father of Connacht team-mate TJ), a man he has a lot of respect for, and it was Anderson who steered Flavin into the Ireland representative system.
"I had tried to play for Ireland Schools instead of England, only it wasn't really doable, but after school Willie asked me if I wanted to continue the English route or go the Ireland route and there was no question, I always wanted to play for Ireland."
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Flavin played on the 1998 U-19 World Cup-winning side under Declan Kidney, an oft-forgotten member of a squad that included Brian O'Driscoll, Donncha O'Callaghan and Paddy Wallace.
He went on to play two years with the Ireland U-21s but, with the move back towards home-based players in the early 2000s, representative honours then dried up.
"There was interest expressed about a move to Ireland but nothing ever came of it," recalls Flavin. "The hookers in the provinces were pretty established.
"Plus, there were quite a few Ireland guys like Justin Bishop and Kieron Dawson still involved in London Irish, so it wasn't like we weren't getting the exposure."
Flavin made steady progress with the Exiles, racking up over 80 appearances, although this would have been more had it not been for a serious neck injury following a heavy collision with Leicester's Martin Corry in 2002 (Flavin insisted on finishing the game).
However, by 2007 he was in and out of the team and, when Michael Bradley came calling, impressing Flavin with his vision for Connacht, the hooker jumped -- ignoring offers from England, France and Wales in the process.
Four years and 111 appearances later, Flavin is one of the senior members of the squad, with a work ethic that is highly regarded by his team-mates.
"Adrian brings huge intensity, energy and standards to the squad," says second-row Michael Swift. "He demands the best of everyone and his attention to detail is phenomenal -- he's the first in on Monday doing analysis.
"He has a freakish memory, I remember him listing off all the number plates in the car-park before, which was kind of weird, a bit like 'Rain Man'."
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Sean Cronin shone as Connacht's starting hooker over the past few seasons, but Swift believes Flavin has "really stepped up to the plate" since Cronin joined Leinster.
He won a couple of Ireland A caps in 2008 that did not lead to anything and his experience was overlooked when up-and-coming Munster hooker Mike Sherry was called out to the World Cup in New Zealand.
However, Flavin still has international ambitions and believes the Heineken Cup presents the Connacht players with a massive opportunity, individually and collectively.
"I certainly haven't given up any ambition to play for Ireland," says Flavin.
"Saturday is a huge chance for the province to showcase itself and for the players too.
"People are saying we did the province proud last week against Harlequins but the bottom line is that we lost. This is a chance to make up for that and prove a point to a wider audience. In Toulouse when the draw came out, there were probably people going, 'Where the hell is Connacht? Where do we fly to?'
"We are not here to pick up the Heineken Cup T-shirt. It is not a case of being able to say in the future, 'remember in 2011 when we were in the Heineken Cup' -- it is a chance to say, 'remember when we beat Toulouse at the Sportsground.'
"I'm enjoying my rugby more now than I ever have. It will be a great day for myself and my family. My son, Sam, was born here in Galway. He's two now and my wife has supported me all the way through. I want to do my family proud and be part of something special."