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Flynn relishing battle with Lilywhites


Dublin footballer Paul Flynn. Picture credit: SPORTSFILE

Dublin footballer Paul Flynn. Picture credit: SPORTSFILE

Dublin footballer Paul Flynn. Picture credit: SPORTSFILE

PAUL FLYNN is talking all things football in a wide-ranging chat ahead of Sunday's Leinster semi-final against Kildare in Croke Park.

Suddenly the conversation takes an unexpected detour, back to a match against Meath that happened three years ago, almost to the day.

The flashback has relevance because it remains the only time thus far, in his life as a Dublin senior footballer, that Flynn has tasted championship defeat in Leinster.

And this was no ordinary defeat: it was the day of the five-goal rout.

That heavenly/horrific occasion (select depending on whether shades are tinted green or sky blue) when Meath came to Croker and thumped five swashbuckling goals past a shellshocked Dublin full-back line and a scarcely protected Stephen Cluxton.

It's a moot point whether this, or the previous August's capitulation to Kerry, was the nadir for Dublin under Pat Gilroy; the darkness before the light. But it was certainly a watershed moment.

And yet, as Flynn mulls over that Royal execution ("Jesus Christ!" are the first two words uttered when the topic if raised), you are reminded that history could have taken a different turn that June afternoon. But for the width of one Canal End upright...

"I hit the inside of the post and it went across the goal," he grimaces.

"I don't know how that didn't go in. That would have brought it back to a point or something like that, but they went up and got around four goals in-a-row! Jesus Christ, don't remind me of that game. That was mad, that game."

For the record, Meath already had two goals in the bank and would lodge another three. Yet that was a pivotal miss, for sure: Dublin would actually have drawn level if Flynn's 45th minute thunderbolt had gained the reward it surely warranted.

Three minutes later, Stephen Bray rounded Cluxton for goal number three. Game, set and mismatch ... yet given the subsequent turn of history, maybe it's just as well for Dublin that they were punished by the post.

"That kickstarted everything nearly for us," Flynn agrees. "It was a massive U-turn under Pat's regime and then we had a great run in the qualifiers that year."

He goes on: "Talk about hitting a low and then rebuilding. Sometimes, when you get a hammering like that, you're like 'Is there any way back at all?' ... it builds character, I think, and it finds true warriors and lads who you want to go to war with. That was what we built that year.

"That 2010 year was, funnily enough, nearly the winning of the All-Ireland in 2011 because of the way we finished off the year on such a high. We were so happy with the way the year ended – even though we should have beaten Cork. Yeah, that was the start of it all."

DUBLIN squeezed plenty into the next three years. They ended a 16-year All-Ireland SFC famine; they headed up that late-summer cul-de-sac familiar to most defending champions; and now they're back with a new manager (Jim Gavin) and seemingly buoyant.

Next up Kildare, a county with reason enough to envy and even hate that Sky Blue jersey. Flynn talks of "going to war" with his comrades; could this be warfare on Sunday?

"It's always a really hard battle against Kildare. They're always really, really strong lads and obviously throw everything at you. I'm sure it's going to be no different," he predicts.

"I love playing against Kildare because you get a really tough game with them and it's going to be physically demanding. Those games suit me and I find that it's end-to-end, so you're on the go constantly."

Maybe it's easier to love playing a county when you usually beat them: check out the 2009 Leinster final, the 2011 provincial semi-final, not to mention this year's league cakewalk.

"Some of those games have been very tight. A couple of years back they probably should have beaten us. I think it was the Leinster final (in '09)," the Fingallians man recalls.

"That was one of my most favourite ever games with Dublin because we got a man sent off and I don't know how we held on. Jesus, it was some game of football. That one, I'd say, really hurt them because they should have beaten us that day.

"It'll be a tough game against them this time again. They know everything we do at this stage; we know everything they do."

WITH one 'Man of the Match' performance already banked in this year's championship – against Westmeath four weeks ago – Flynn has never felt better. He was an All Star for the last two seasons; now he feels fitter and stronger again this year. Yet he also finds himself in a strange and unfamiliar place – he's only in his mid-20s and yet suddenly one of the old blokes of the dressing-room.

This is a reflection of the diminishing age profile under Jim Gavin. He's had "no choice" in becoming one of the senior players in Sky Blue.

"There are only five or six lads older than me and I'm only 26. It is hard to believe they are all so young," he says, almost wistfully, before clarifying: "It's great – they come in like a breath of fresh air and they have just blended in seamlessly. It's weird, they don't think about the game; they just go out and do it. It's a great attitude to have."

If Flynn appears to be approaching his peak, he puts that down to a variety of factors. He has built up an aerobic bank of fitness over his years in the squad. He feels "a little more confident in myself".

That may be partly because, having grown up as a midfielder, he has learned the different demands and intricacies of his Dublin position – that of the modern-day wing-forward.

"I used to get burned out in 20 minutes. You have to be smart about it – you have got to know when to press, when to drop, when to support the attacker or when to support the defence," he explains.

"You kind of grow into the role as well and now it suits me. I'm just enjoying my football. I think that is why I'm playing well – because I enjoy it so much."