'I pretended I wasn't hurt' - Paul Flynn describes being on the receiving end of a dunt from Con O'Callaghan
PAUL Flynn tells a story about Con O’Callaghan.
It was the winter of 2016 and Dublin were in the embryonic stages of preparation for their season after winning the All-Ireland the year before.
O’Callaghan was 19 and had only just been called up to the senior squad to train in Innisfails’ grounds in Balgriffin, a spacious but fairly basic base Jim Gavin has used pre-April in each of his five seasons in charge.
The drill is called a ‘tackle box’, practised by football teams at all levels the nation over, wherein players line out opposite each other, take a pass and attempt to hold possession and evade contact in as much as the space restrictions allow.
As he has done countless times, Flynn received possession and advanced towards the new forward from Cuala with the fresh features.
“He hit me a dunt and I was winded for about 30 minutes,” Flynn admits now.
“I couldn’t train … I was running around training pretending I wasn’t hurt.”
Flynn is certain that it was either O’Callaghan’s “first or second session,” with the seniors and his initial perception of his new squad mate hadn’t tallied with this crunching reality.
“I didn’t know a hell of a lot about him,” says Flynn.
“But I definitely didn’t think he was a hardy boyo.”
His opinion was instantly revised. “He’s as hard as nails and he has been since the start,” Flynn notes.
“He has that inner strength. Not just the strength you get from doing weights.
“He has an inner strength and now he has added to it with conditioning.
“But he’s as hard as nails and you see it in the way he plays.
“He’s well able to get in tight. Whoever he’s marking.
“They usually get physical with him but he’s well able to throw his weight around.
“To tidy it all up,” Flynn adds, “he’s got the finesse of someone like Messi.”
Which brings him back to his standout memory of O’Callaghan’s annus mirabilis.
Flynn was only getting comfortable on the Dublin bench in the All-Ireland final when Con slalomed his way past three tacklers and gently nudged the ball past Mayo keeper David Clarke.
“It was one of those moments when, you know, when you’re almost in shock?
“It’s like, ‘did that just happen?’ And he has the ability to do stuff like that which will differentiate him from the rest.
“That guy is mature beyond his years. He’s just so level-headed. He never lets any of it get to him. If he won a game or lost a game, I don’t think you’d see too much of a shift in his emotions.
“He loves playing Gaelic football and hurling. You can see it in every aspect that he does. He loves training. He loves the grind of putting in a big shift. He loves it all.
“But at the same time, I see a level-headedness to him. He was in Grant-Thornton (a professional services firm based in City Quay) there doing an internship with his third year in college and he’s engaged in it.”
“I’d say whatever that guy puts his hand to, he’s going to be good at it. But the reason he is so good is because he’s very talented but more so, because of his attitude.
“He’s got a really great way about him.
“And,” Flynn adds, “he’s going to be a superstar for years.”