For much of his Kildare career, Daniel Flynn has been the ultimate ‘YouTube’ player. And we don’t mean that in a disparaging way, the veiled inference being that he belongs in a highlights reel instead of on the steps of the Hogan Stand.
It’s just that his penchant for the spectacular has produced so many jaw-dropping moments. A quick Google trawl brings you to a five-minute You-Tube video showcasing a dizzy confection of wonder goals.
It all starts with last year’s Leinster final against Dublin, when he picked James McCarthy’s pocket before a 40-metre solo run culminated in him barrelling Jonny Cooper to the Croke Park turf and firing an angled Exocet past Evan Comerford. That sets the scene for more solo extravaganzas against Monaghan (2018 Super 8s), Cavan (2015 league) and Mayo (2018 league).
This particular compilation doesn’t even include two other outrageous individual goals against Westmeath (2016 league) and Derry (2018 qualifiers). But you will find eye-catching points against Roscommon, Galway, Armagh, Meath and – best of all – that remarkable point on the run, from near the Hogan touchline, during the 2017 Leinster final.
That game ended, however, in familiar defeat to Dublin – and instead of waxing lyrical about Flynn’s point of the year contender, match reports focussed more on his failure to beat Stephen Cluxton in a pivotal one-on-one. “There were about five different things going through my head when I got the ball — and I did none of them,” Flynn admitted, speaking soon afterwards upon being named footballer of the month for June.
“I thought about going around him, I thought about placing it, I thought about burying it — but I ended up just kicking it at him.”
Lesson learned, Flynn thundered an unstoppable shot past Cluxton just six months later, in the 2018 league: bursting past Philly McMahon and away from goal, he somehow arrowed an exquisite shot into the far stanchion.
But here’s the thing: it came in garbage-time and merely cut Dublin’s winning margin from ten to seven. Whereas before half-time, with the sides level, Flynn had gone for glory himself and blazed over when a pass to Eoin Doyle would have left the goal at Kildare’s mercy.
Fast-forward from January 2018, and the question is how much has changed for Kildare’s mercurial target man? In this year’s Leinster semi-final against Westmeath the selfless offload materialised, leaving Jimmy Hyland with the simplest of fisted goals.
Fuelled by February events when Dublin were felled for the first time in 22 years, long-suffering Lilies are daring to dream ahead of today’s provincial final.
On the flip side, Dublin have looked back in the groove since putting their league calamities behind them. But Dessie Farrell will fret over Kildare’s potency in attack – and the fact that Flynn, at 28, is showing a side to his game not always previously apparent.
His knack for individual brilliance hasn’t gone away, as Dublin discovered in Newbridge, but the other side of his game – the selfless link play and timely lay-offs - has flourished too.
“Daniel has probably expanded his game more this year than I’ve ever seen before,” says Kildare U-20 manager Brian Flanagan, who played alongside a younger Flynn for Johnstownbridge as well as Kildare (in 2013), then managed him at club level for three seasons.
“We’ve all known about his individual explosive athleticism - but getting that consistency over the last few years has probably been a challenge.
“Whereas this year, even in games when he wasn’t scoring, I still thought he was having a good influence. He was well up, maybe top of the pile, in terms of the assist charts that the Kildare seniors would have had in the league.
“He has developed a very good relationship with Jimmy Hyland in particular. Jimmy seems to feed off Daniel’s physical presence and ability to win that primary ball,” adds Flanagan, saluting Flynn’s greater vision, awareness of others and the fact he doesn’t have to do it all himself because of Kildare’s greater attacking quality.
This is reflected in the stats. All six forwards had scored from play inside 22 minutes against Louth – and inside 20 against Westmeath.
Still, for all the obvious threat carried by Hyland, Darragh Kirwan and Ben McCormack (in the form of his life), Flynn is the one X-factor Lily that Dublin will fear most. His erstwhile shadow David Byrne is out through injury, fanning speculation that Mick Fitzsimons will take up the beat.
Andriú Mac Lochlainn finished up with Kildare in 2012, at which point Flynn had already linked up with the panel before making his debut the following year.
“He’s an exceptional athlete,” says Mac Lochlainn. “I’ve marked guys as fast as Dan, I’ve marked guys as big as Dan – but his acceleration is the difference. That’s what causes defenders a lot of issues, and what allows him to do these exceptional individual pieces of play that everyone wants to talk about.”
However, he reckons the appointment of Glenn Ryan’s management team has prompted a reappraisal of his role: how can Flynn link more with his teammates and, by extension, deliver even more for his team?
Flanagan echoes that view. “He is maturing,” his club colleague says, “but on top of that, maybe the message is coming from management this year, and the encouragement to work hard off the ball, to bring other fellas into the game, to lay that ball off.”
Flynn may be a Rolls Royce footballer but his career has been more of a roller coaster: he spent 2014 as an AFL rookie with Port Adelaide while his standout season with Kildare (leading to an All-Star nomination in 2018) was followed by taking a year out from inter-county. “I love playing and I enjoy training but, as somebody said to me, is the juice worth the squeeze?” he explained at the time.
But this year he is enjoying his football, according to Flanagan. “He got a good pre-season in with the lads. I know they trained exceptionally hard this year … but the feedback was that Daniel was loving every minute of that.”
And Kildare are loving him too.