Flynn: ‘I’m hungry to play, I still think I can start’
When Paul Flynn made his seasonal return for Dublin against Roscommon in late March, the portents for what lay ahead looked very promising.
Flynn contributed 1-6 on the night, his biggest ever score in a Dublin shirt, and started the final-round league match in Monaghan and the subsequent league final defeat to Kerry.
After a relative dip in form in 2016 Flynn was shaping up for a big season but then suffered a calf injury that left him out for 10 weeks, incorporating all three Leinster Championship matches and leaving him further back in a lengthening queue of Dublin possibilities.
Even his stellar reputation could not protect his position in the half-forward line and for the first time since he joined the Dublin squad in 2008, he failed to start a championship match.
It did, however, leave him refreshed with a burning desire for 2018 to come around as quickly as it can.
"Coming to the Carlow game I was in the best shape I have been in years but I pulled my calf which is an injury you just can't foresee. There was no sign of it. I was out for 10 weeks in the middle of the summer.
"I just about got back for the quarter-final and that was even 'touch and go'. I was delighted to get a bit of game time there. I got 20 minutes against Tyrone and was sprung earlier than anticipated against Mayo, in after five minutes. It was unfortunate (circumstances), a big loss. Jack (McCaffrey) couldn't have started the game any better.
"It was a very funny year for me. I was chasing my tail all the time. I finished the season and I wasn't even tired," he recalls.
"Sometimes you'd be looking forward to a final but this year I was saying, 'Give me more games'. I went back to the club and we had no games. The whole season had ended and I would have loved a bit more football.
"I have a bit of time now to do a few other bits and then just get cracking into it. I'm getting married in December (to recent Dublin ladies All-Ireland winner Fiona Hudson) and then after that I'm ready to go."
Two years ago Flynn's body condition and frame of mind was much different. For four months he didn't so much put on a pair of boots as he sought to completely rest a troublesome groin injury.
"I could barely walk. My groin was hanging off. I couldn't seem to find an end to it. It's crazy," he says.
"It doesn't give me any trouble at all now. Just talk to any county lads the same injury crops up it's the groin or the hip. Everyone goes through phases of injuries. If any athlete, never mind just in football, goes through their career injury-free, you never see that. Injuries are a part of it, it's how you manage them and how you overcome them.
"I'm at a stage now when I'm just enjoying my football. So when you're enjoying you will play well and once the body is okay, I appreciate that I'm 31 years old and the body can't do all the things that it used to be able to do. It can do 95 per cent of it.
"But your prime is in your mid to late 20s. That's when you can give it everything. Your body has no real risk of injury. I didn't have an injury for six years, from 24 to nearly 30.
"I'm looking at next year and am going to go very hard at it and give it everything I have and once the body is good and the mind is good and that's what it is, I'm hungry to play. I still think I can start. Once I'm in that position in my head and the body supports that I'll keep her lit."
Flynn acknowledges that as a squad Dublin players have got better at accepting potential impact roles off the bench.
"This year sitting on the bench at one stage there was myself Bernard Brogan, Mick Macauley, Eoghan O'Gara, Kev Mac, Darren Daly, Diarmuid Connolly. For the lads on the field it didn't seem to have any impact for them because they went out, they were excellent and we came in and finished the job off. That's the mindset we have now and we have to have.
"Yes, everyone wants to start and they will go hard to make sure they put themselves in a position to start. But if they're not, they'll get a 20-minute stint, 10-minute stint, whatever it is, they're going to make an impact for the team.
"We've become good at that as a team, they get over the disappointment of not starting quite quickly and realise they have a role to play. When you have that competition it brings out the best in everybody. You can't afford to have a bad training session, never mind a bad game."
Flynn admits Dublin would like to have played better in last month's All-Ireland final but acknowledged how Mayo "by far" present the most attritional challenge to them.
"We would have liked to have played better but at the same time finals are there to be won and we won it again so we're happy. There is such intensity about them. You don't get a second on the ball. They are in your face, they're very physical. There's a kick of a ball in it, any time we play them that's the case. It takes you a couple of days to recover from a game with Mayo."