'I couldn't push the body any harder' - Paul Flynn didn't want to 'hang around for the wrong reasons'
Paul Flynn met up with the Dublin squad for a collective gym session on Monday but he knew, deep down, that he was reaching the end of a long and glorious road.
His journey to retirement, announced yesterday morning after 12 memorable seasons in Sky Blue, was no overnight decision taken on a whim.
Dublin are on the cusp of launching their quest for five-in-a-row immortality. Leaving at this juncture, less than four weeks out from their Leinster SFC opener, was sure to induce all manner of mixed emotions.
But as Flynn told The Herald: “The thing is, time waits for no man. I’m going to be 33 this year and I did always say I’d go as hard as I could for as long as I could, and it just felt that I couldn’t push the body any harder.
“I probably would have been hanging on for the wrong reasons. Maybe thinking about that quest that you highlighted for five-in-a-row. But that’s not me. If I don’t believe I can offer on the pitch to the team ... well then, I felt it’s a nice time to let the lads off.”
Those lads, he points out, will be “my teammates and my friends forever.” So, why walk now? You have to go back around 15 months ...
“In February last year I had back surgery – I had a lumber spine discectomy. It’s literally they cut away a bit of your bulging disc that’s impinging on a nerve and causing sciatica down as far as my left foot,” he explains.
“I was actually playing a club game in Portmarnock, the first club game of the season last year, and I couldn’t run. I went in to the doctor the next day, and I had a thing called ‘foot drop’ … it goes floppy, and I’d no power in it. It was because the nerve at the top of my left leg was completely blocked.
“I had to actually get surgery the next day. After that I was contemplating not going back. The recovery went well; I just took it step by step, I wasn’t expecting too much from myself.
“Then I got back and there was such a freshness about me last summer, and a real hunger, that I got a good bounce off. And I played good football last year, as much as the game-time that I got.
“Then at the end of the year I was kind of saying ‘What a way to cap it, I think this is perfect timing.’ And people all around me were kind of just saying ‘Five-in-a-row, history’ … but I still was saying I’m not too sure if the body is up for it.
“I spoke to Jim (Gavin) and he was great. He highlighted if I was having a good pre-season and getting a good league campaign under your belt, it would set you up nicely.
“Then I went for it. Didn’t miss pretty much a session all through the league and all through pre-season. But I just couldn’t get the body going as well as I’d have liked. Couldn’t reach the standards that I set for myself.”
Ultimately, that was the key. Throughout his 12 seasons in Sky Blue, through the accumulation of six All-Ireland medals and myriad more Leinster, league and All Star awards, Flynn was all about self-improvement, making those vital extra inches, all for the team.
But chronic injuries have taken their toll and, two months shy of his 33rd birthday, those sky-high standards were proving elusive.
He started Dublin’s first Allianz League game against Monaghan in Clones, subsequently made three appearances off the bench, then started away to Cavan in their last-day dead-rubber. A victory for Dublin but a Breffni Park swansong to forget: he was replaced after 43 minutes.
“Thank God that not many people maybe saw that, because it wasn’t my greatest hour!” he admits. “That all seeps into the whole thing – getting opportunities and you can’t take them … my game was built on my physicality and my conditioning and my body, and that’s started to kind of fail you a little bit. That makes it more difficult.
“After the league, I had a couple of meetings with Jim about it. Played my club championship games.”
But in the second of those, moving well and having tallied 1-3 against Round Towers Clondalkin (Gavin’s home club), he tweaked his hamstring and was forced off.
There was another tell-tale warning that day: a problem with his left glute. “That’s where I would have got a lot of trouble last year pre-operation,” he reveals. “And I just said ‘Look, I don’t think the body is going to be able for another hard season.’ And what the team deserves is everybody fully committed and hungry and well able to give everything to what’s going to be a huge season for the lads.”
In his pomp, Flynn was the complete half-forward. But he accepts that the attritional nature of his role may have contributed to some of his latter-day injury travails.
“I had surgery on my groin in 2016 and I had surgery on my back in ‘18, and they’re both chronic injuries,” he says.
“Contrast that with from 2011 to 2014 - I had one or two small soft tissue injuries and other than that I had nothing other than a clean bill of health. It’s not a coincidence that they’re your best years.”
And his best memory? He doesn’t hesitate ....
“The 2011 All-Ireland final, for me, even though I was injured,” he says, recalling how he battled on for the first 51 minutes against Kerry with a grade three hamstring tear.
“That will go down as my highlight. Just for everything that it was – probably similar to the Limerick situation last year where it brought such emotion to the whole county.
“There were probably individual highlights after that were a little bit different, but that to me … Pat Gilroy did so much for my career.
“He took me under his wing, he took a raw talent and turned me into a footballer. That whole team would have died for him.”