Monday 19 August 2019

Colm Keys: 'Paul Flynn got the most out of his talent but injury had forced him to the periphery'


Paul Flynn celebrates Dublin’s 2017 All-Ireland triumph, one of six the Fingallians clubman’s won. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Paul Flynn celebrates Dublin’s 2017 All-Ireland triumph, one of six the Fingallians clubman’s won. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Sometime over the last decade the words 'to be the best I can be', or the plural version, has taken centre-stage in the GAA playing lexicon.

It's a simple yet abstract ambition because no one really knows how good any player can be or how far they need to go to reach the top. But if any player was the best he could have been over the course of the last decade, then it's surely Paul Flynn.

He maximised what he had, he sought improvement at every turn and for a while, in the earlier part of the decade, he was held up as the prototype modern footballer with perpetual motion, dynamism and an ever-improving range of skills.

Once asked in 2011 the player that he would most covet in his team, then Kildare manager and former Armagh All-Ireland-winning captain Kieran McGeeney suggested Flynn as his most likely choice.


That he had scored the goal to floor Kildare in the 2011 Leinster semi-final could have been fresh in McGeeney's mind. Flynn is the only non-Kerry footballer to have four successive football All-Stars, a measure of the consistency he brought to his game in those years.

From 2011 to 2014, the Fingallians man made the half-forward line on each team. Even in the two years that Dublin didn't win All-Irelands, 2012 and 2014, he was chosen, making the shortlist for Footballer of the Year along with Diarmuid Connolly and eventual winner James O'Donoghue.

That was the high point and even in defeat to Donegal in that All-Ireland semi-final Flynn was immense, his long-range shooting to subvert the barricades Donegal had erected in perfect sync with Connolly.

Flynn has always been an extremely industrious player who learned the benefits of constant practice and elite preparation when he roomed with Donegal's Michael Murphy and Cork's Aidan Walsh in DCU. In successive years at the beginning of the decade, they each won All-Ireland medals.

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Murphy and himself would take a bag of balls out and practise regularly, Flynn closely analysing the kicking style of the Donegal captain to see what he could pick up.

In return, Professor Niall Moyna, their DCU coach, used to laugh that Murphy learned how to study from Flynn!

Between 2009 and 2012, Flynn won two Sigerson Cup medals and generally attributes his time in that environment to much of his improvement.

Introduced to his first Dublin squad by Paul Caffrey, he was a peripheral figure initially but thrived under Pat Gilroy who recognised Flynn's value in trying to mirror that role so successfully carried out by Tyrone's Brian Dooher and Kerry's Paul Galvin in the 2000s.

It wasn't always plain sailing. By his own admission, Flynn wasn't a good shooter but his efforts to hone that never ceased and he made himself much better.

His championship debut against Westmeath in 2008 lasted just a half and when he was taken off in Dublin's Tipperary qualifier in 2010, their first game after the concession of five goals against Meath in their last Leinster Championship defeat, he lost his place for the season.

But his vision and passing ability were much understated in his 12-year career.

Judged by his own exalted standards Flynn still felt he was a better footballer in 2015 than he was in 2011 but in latter years injury really impacted him and so many attempts to get back to the highest level were thwarted.

In his parting statement yesterday, he referenced the back surgery he had last year and how he "struggled to reach the fitness required for inter-county and to reach the standards that I set for myself. While my heart says play on unfortunately my body says it's time to call it a day."

He came on as a substitute in five of Dublin's eight championship games and started one against Roscommon, his last championship appearance, but after playing in this year's league an injury in a club game last week may have influenced this decision now.

With the development of players like Brian Howard, Niall Scully and Con O'Callaghan, Flynn's absence won't have the impact it would have had just a few years ago but his departure will erode something significant nonetheless.

His appointment as chief executive of the Gaelic Players Association last year further underlined his ambition and he'll be able to conduct that role now without any suggestion that there is a conflict of interest in his position as a current county player.

That he goes now on the cusp of such a momentous summer will compound the disappointment that bit more but it says something about him that he's willing to let go when he felt he could no longer contribute to a certain standard.

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