'Monster' challenge doesn't frighten Flanagan
Back in 1995, someone in Clara asked Pat Flanagan to take charge of the club's minor team.
His own playing days were coming to an end and he might have seen himself starting at the very bottom, maybe with the U-8s, but he was handed the minors. They won two championships on the bounce and Flanagan was hooked.
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He has been involved in management ever since, bouncing around clubs and counties, winning plenty of silverware along the way. This year's county championship success with Pádraig Pearses puts him in an elite group. He has now guided club teams to senior titles in Roscommon, Westmeath (Tyrrellspass) and Offaly (Clara).
Every championship is special, he says, but with Pearses this year they broke new ground. When they finally saw off Roscommon Gaels in the decider, it was the club's ninth attempt (including replays) at getting over the line.
"When you are trying to win a championship for the first time the talk is about finals and about this big one event of a game," says the former Westmeath, Offaly and Sligo manager.
"But it's not any different from another game apart from the fact that they call it a final. So we had to take that away from it and relieve some of the pressure the boys had been applying to themselves.
"I thought they did that exceptionally well on the day. Still, the pressure got to us in the end and we were just holding on when we got to the line."
It was a win that sparked joyous scenes and plumbed deep wells of emotion.
"Every championship is special and every one is different, but the fact that this was the first one . . . it was amazing to see grown men cry, people who were founding members of the club and had been there since the word go. It was amazing to meet those people, both men and women, and I think they got more out of it than anyone else.
"But it was special for the players as well, I said to someone recently that now that the young people have seen what has happened, they can aspire to that and look forward to playing with the club in a few years."
Often when clubs break new ground like Pearses did, the provincial competition is seen as bonus territory. However, Pearses got back to business with a handsome win over Sligo's Tourlestrane. And they backed that up with a win over London champions Tír Chonaill Gaels. Given they had just six days to organise and book the trip to Ruislip, it was a notable win for the club.
"I had experience of travelling over with Offaly a few years ago and it gave me an insight into what might occur with players and it helped to a certain degree," Flanagan says.
"It's very difficult to organise trips and get people there within a six-day period, because we didn't know we were going until after we beat Tourlestrane. So it was difficult going over there, the bottom line is it was a massive challenge mentally and physically.
"It showed on the day. We didn't play as well as we could, but we did enough to get across the line."
Their reward is a date with perhaps the most impressive club team the game has seen. Chasing a third successive All-Ireland title, Corofin are, Flanagan says, a "monster".
"It is mind-blowing what they have achieved in the last number of years. These guys are monsters, (won) two All-Irelands against two of the top teams in the country and they hammered both of those.
"We are playing in Tuam and it is like a home pitch for them. The guy who is refereeing was in charge of their semi-final, so they know how he is going to operate too. So everything is pointing to a very difficult day for us.
"At the same time, we'll just apply what we have done all this year and how we have approached it. It's another game of football and we are not going down to make up the numbers. But, like I say, they are a special unit, a special club and it is a monster game."
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