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‘Kerry is the dream final’

FIT-AGAIN Flynn is sure Dubs can hold their own in face of any Kingdom onslaught.

THEY are a dream and a nightmare rolled into one. Everyone wants to play Kerry on the Croke Park stage,

yet everyone realises it can all turn horribly wrong too.

Paul Flynn has been that soldier when Kerry are rampant and nothing is going right and this celebrated green sward becomes a theatre of screams.

That was 2009; but Flynn and his Dublin comrades are two years older, a whole lot wiser, and cannot wait

for the chance to renew champion-ship battle with Kerry on the biggest day of all.

The third Sunday of September.

Kerry had already secured their All-Ireland place by the time Dublin got down and dirty with Donegal. For every current Dublin player who has suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous August misfortune, they could have been facing Barcelona in the final and it wouldn’t matter – so long as they got there.

But now that the ‘dream final’ is looming reality, Flynn insists that he couldn’t be happier.

“It’s a dream when you’re younger, as a Dub anyway, to play Kerry in an All-Ireland final,” he enthuses.

“I expected it to be Kerry, to be honest with you.

“They’re obviously the team to beat, year in, year out, so you don’t expect them to slip up.”

Cue the obligatory question about ‘that’ game: the ’09

All-Ireland quarter-final when Dublin (for once) were favourites against a Kerry team supposedly mired in crisis, and it all ended in a 1-24 to 1-7 landslide for the, ahem, underdogs.

“A tough game,” Flynn recalls with just a touch of understatement.

“It was a lonely place out there.”

Still, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; that was Pat Gilroy’s first year as manager and the resultant post-mortems gave rise to a very different Dublin both last season and this. Less of the swash and buckle; more hardcore devotion to tackling, turnovers and all-round defensive solidity.

It hasn’t always worked the oracle, but the new template has brought Dublin to within a whisker of last year’s All-Ireland – and now a long-awaited final after 16 years of waiting.

“Anything can happen in championship football,” Flynn cautions, “but I think we probably learned a lot from that game (against Kerry). Nothing like that has ever happened to us since. We’ve moved on as a group and even this year we’ve beaten big teams, so I think we’ve learned a lot from losses like that and the one against Tyrone (in 2008).

“I think we’re experienced enough now as a group to be able to deal with a situation like that if they do get an early score or whatever,” he adds, harking back to Colm Cooper’s agenda-setting goal after just 38 seconds of that ’09 quarter-final.

“We were left a bit exposed at the back,” he admits, “but we do a lot of work now obviously on our defensive system. We think we’re confident now that something like that wouldn’t happen again.”

Flynn had made his championship debut the season before, 2008, but didn’t feature during the quarter-final meltdown against Tyrone that precipitated Paul Caffrey’s departure.

The Fingallians clubman has since nailed down his Dublin place, his influence growing with each passing season.

He is the archetypal modern-day wing-forward: a player possessed of a high-powered engine, he’s a frequent kick-out option for Stephen Cluxton’s pinpoint deliveries but can also scrap with the best of them for ‘carpet’ ball.

His abilities as a scorer haven’t always been recognised, but that’s no longer the case after his goal against Kildare last June and the two points that crowned his quarter-final tour de force against Tyrone.

Based on that complete performance (by player and team) it’s clear that Dublin have moved on. The ensuing semi-final against Donegal begs the question “by how much?” The glass-half-empty synopsis will point to Dublin’s struggle, for the guts of an hour, to figure out a way through Donegal’s extreme version of the blanket defence.

Yet surely there are only positives to be gained from surviving such an intense war of attrition?

Flynn certainly thinks so.

“To win ugly like that is great for the team,” he declares.

“It mightn’t be easy on the eye and it mightn’t be easy to play in, but afterwards you get a great sense of achievement out of it, that you can dig deep together and get that result.”

In some ways, even better than the satisfaction of playing total football against Tyrone? “Exactly,” he agrees. “In different ways you can take more out of that Donegal game because of the character you’ve shown amongst the group. We took the lead in the Tyrone game and we held onto it; we just kept pushing on. But this was a completely different game and asked different things of us.”

Kerry, of course, will ask even more.

The good news for Flynn – and Dublin – is that the hamstring scare that saw him pull up in apparent agony towards the end of the semi-final was subsequently diagnosed as a “slight strain”, not an actual tear.

Speaking at the Dublin All-Ireland press night 10 days ago, the 25-year-old DCU student was confident that he’ll be fit and ready for September 18. In the days after the semi-final, he was besieged by enquiries as to his well-being: “Same question, same answer. I might go around with a sticker on my head saying I’m grand!” he jokes.

Suffice to say, the ‘hammer’ is fine and so too is the head as Flynn eyes up the biggest day of the footballing life.

“I’d just be a bit more excited for the week of the game – have to keep myself a bit calm – but I don’t really do nerves,” he reveals.

“We have to prepare for the game as if you’d prepare for any game, and leave all the hype for the fans.”