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Hunger still there: Flynn

IN GAA parlance, few words carry greater weight than good old-fashioned hunger. It is that intangible quality that frequently separates All-Ireland champions from the rest. It is also, just as often, the missing ingredient that stops sated champions going back-to-back.

In the season just gone, Dublin footballers were hungry as hell ... but will they still have it when going back to the well next summer?

Paul Flynn, for one, believes they will. He's not making any wild promises about achieving what so many other highly touted holders of Sam Maguire have failed to do; but he is convinced that if Dublin do fall short in their All-Ireland defence, it won't be for the want of busting a gut.

Or tearing a hamstring off the bone, for that matter.

Flynn, you see, was the limping embodiment of Dublin's unquenchable desire in 2011. By rights, he shouldn't have played against Kerry in the All-Ireland final. Any other game and he wouldn't have risked it.

But this was no ordinary game.


Ever since the war of attrition that was the semi-final against Donegal, the Fingallians clubman had been up against the black ball. Publicly, player and management made optimistic noises about his hamstring healing in time. In reality, this was the ultimate race against time.

"The day beforehand I did a fitness test and I hadn't trained up to that," he recalled, speaking yesterday at the Dublin launch of the AIB GAA Skills Challenge.

"That night, I had to ice it for the whole night . It was so sore afterwards and I was nearly going to ring Pat (Gilroy) and say I wouldn't be able to play.


"I took the painkillers or whatever and got it heavily strapped. It wasn't 100 per cent. That's neither here nor there now. Kev (goalscoring super-sub Kevin McManamon) came off the bench for me and changed the game."

Looking back, Flynn openly admits the injury was playing on his mind beforehand. "I looked at the clip from the warm-up, as the president was walking by, and my face didn't look right. I must have been so worried with it," he recounts.

"I said to Pat before the game to keep the lads warm, because this could go after 10 or 15 minutes."

Would he have played if it weren't the final? "Not a chance," he affirms. "Even the physio was telling me, 'You do know that after this game it could be off the bone or anything. You could really damage it'.

"I was like 'I don't care; this is it for me. If this is the last game I play and we win, I wouldn't mind.'

"That's how much it meant to me. You just have to go with it."

All of which leads neatly onto the perennial Big Question posed of defending champions. Flynn wasn't the only Dub prepared to go through physical and/or psychological pain barriers this year; but after all the celebrations, all the back-slapping, all the individual plaudits, even all the quiet satisfaction that comes with a career-defining victory, how do you replicate that original hunger when Gilroy's dawn chorus chimes next January?

"I don't know yet," the first-time All Star admits. "But I do know from just talking to the lads ... we all enjoyed this so much that we really want to do it again next year. There is no doubt about that.


"I fully believe that we will have the hunger again to challenge and to do our best. And whatever is after that, that's all you can do because sometimes you don't get the rub of the green and things don't happen for you on the day or whatever.

"But I can guarantee you that the group of lads that take the field next year will give it everything they can."

Flynn hasn't played since the All-Ireland final: the hamstring either "tore again" or had never fully healed but, either way, the tear showed up in a subsequent scan that ruled out any chance of him making the plane for the International Rules tour to Australia.

He was due back on a plane today, as the Dubs jetted off for their well-earned team holiday taking in Florida and the Cayman Islands.

Pat Gilroy will be among them but, even more crucially, he'll be there when the hard slog recommences in January.

"I wasn't happy when I saw he was just staying on for one (year). I was thinking he might sign a 10-year contract!" laughs Flynn.

On a more serious note, he views Gilroy's reappointment as a pivotal piece of the jigsaw.

The manager has built a bond among the group and they don't want it sundered now. On an individual level, Gilroy stuck by Flynn, made this wing-forward tyro an integral part of his team. One All-Ireland and one All Star later, that display of faith has been amply justified.

"He has done a lot of work with me -- on a one-to-one basis as well," the player explains.

"When someone believes you and wants to guide you, you obviously want them to stay involved because you don't know what is going to happen; another manager could come in and say 'I don't like him' or 'I don't like the way he plays'.


"That is one of the main reasons. I am sure there are a lot of lads on the team with the same reasons. He has guided them too."

As Flynn reflects on his eventful year, you get the sense that he's already looking forward to the New Year and the pre-dawn buzz of his alarm clock.

"You'd be thinking 'This is crazy!'" he recalls, harking back to last January and those famous 6.30am training sessions up in Clontarf.

"You're looking around and nobody is on the road, nobody is even awake. It builds a kind of bond among the group that we held and carried with us throughout the championship. I actually, personally, really enjoyed those sessions," he says.

And yes, surreal as it may seem, you actually believe him.