Sport Rugby

Friday 23 February 2018

Jerry Flannery: 'We need to have greater expectations of Ireland'

Flannery believes we must change the way we think about failure, writes Marie Crowe

Jerry Flannery, the Ireland hooker holds onto the ball during the Ireland captain's run held at the Aviva Stadium, 2011. Photo: Getty Images
Jerry Flannery, the Ireland hooker holds onto the ball during the Ireland captain's run held at the Aviva Stadium, 2011. Photo: Getty Images

THE mixed martial arts scene in Ireland is about to get a lot more interesting. Former rugby international Jerry Flannery is getting ready to rumble.



MMA is a full-contact combat sport that allows the use of striking and grappling techniques, both standing and on the ground, from a variety of other combat sports. Sounds painful.

Three months have passed since Flannery was forced to call a halt to his rugby career because of a calf injury and it seems retirement is suiting him. He's busy doing a Masters in Sports Performance at the University of Limerick, running his pub and also developing a sister site to Joe.ie called Her.ie, which he's a director of.

However, Flannery misses contact sports, the intensity of what rugby offered, and he thinks MMA could help fill the void.

"I'd like to give it a go. I like the sport, it's something different so I've arranged a few lessons. With the course I'm doing I realised how narrow my focus was with rugby, I trained to play. I think the more sports you play the better, so I'll try MMA to start with. I'll probably get my arm pulled off but as long as my calf doesn't tear I don't mind."

Flannery's interest in MMA stems from his Munster days. Wrestling was introduced as part of their training and every week they had a 'King of the Ring' competition. All the players were put into a square and the last guy standing won. Flannery didn't win too many, but he enjoyed it.

"Sami Tuitupou was pretty impressive, I won one bout of it but you can't say you're the best at it, it's more about surviving. If you manage to weasel your way into the corner, avoid some of the big lads and then push some of them out when they are throwing someone else out you might get lucky and win." Since retiring, Flannery has also embraced social media. He has over 30,000 Twitter followers and through the site has shown a more humorous side to him. Now that he's no longer representing Ireland and Munster, he can be a bit freer with what he shares.

He still says "we" when speaking of Munster and talks passionately about the future of the province. He has high hopes for the players who are taking over from the old guard and thinks that it's their team now.

"I hope this is a big year for us, it's transitional, we've a new coach and a lot of players have moved on. But there are a lot of new, good young players who've come in too, and it's good for them that we've gone as well because now it's really up to them. They work hard and they love playing for Munster for the right reasons." When it comes to Shannon, Flannery isn't as positive about the future. He reckons dividing the AIL provincially and then having a playoff could go a long way towards combating the problems in the league.

"It's going to be a tough year for us now. The AIL has changed recently but it's changed for everyone. We had a core group of players for a long time who were contracted and playing regularly for Munster, but that's no longer the case. There are huge financial constraints on teams and many players have to move to Dublin for work because of the current economic climate.

"I'd love to go back to having the thirds, seconds and firsts play on the one day. The community spirit needs to be renewed in club rugby like you have in the GAA. If I was playing I'd like the idea of Shannon playing Cork Constitution on a Saturday with all three teams heading off on buses bringing wives, girlfriends and families and having barbecues in the evenings.

"I know people say the weather isn't good enough, but you are going to play the games anyway so you may as well have people there. The biggest problem would be the pitches but there should be a way to sort that. You'd be producing more players and keeping them in the game. That should be the ethos for the club rather than it being a stepping stone to go somewhere."

Although Flannery would love to be a rugby player "to bang heads with people at international level and play Heineken Cup games", his calf injury won't allow it. It seems inevitable that he'll end up coaching somewhere instead. His experience is limited at present, but he's worked with some of the best coaches and learned from them. Declan Kidney, in particular, is someone the hooker has been influenced by.

"Declan is a very smart man, very emotionally intelligent, he thinks a good few steps down the line and puts people in the right place. You might not understand why he's doing something and then two weeks later it makes sense."

"Deccy takes players and tells them they're really good, he'll take a young player who is making his first start for Ireland or Munster and tell them to do exactly what they did when they were playing in school, which stops a player over-thinking things. He makes you believe in yourself by telling you you're here because you're really good. If you make someone feel big they'll play big."

During Euro 2012, Roy Keane hit the headlines for his comments about Irish fans celebrating the team's loss and although Flannery doesn't completely agree with the former Ireland soccer captain, he can see where he's coming from in relation to Ireland's national teams.

"I was gutted when Ireland lost the second Test to New Zealand, it was so close. I spoke to my dad and a few people after the game and they said it was a great performance. It was as if there was a feelgood factor because we'd only narrowly lost. Yet in New Zealand they were getting ripped to shreds for their performance, even though they won.

"It got me thinking that we need to change the way we think about our national team. I'm not talking to the extreme of Roy Keane, but we definitely need to have higher expectations. I was chatting to the coaches and players after and they were all disgusted and gutted, they went there to win."

Flannery believes that if you want a media career as a former rugby player, criticising players is unavoidable and he doesn't want to go down that route, especially if coaching becomes his focus. In the past he's done some analysis for TG4 and finds speaking Irish an enjoyable challenge.

He is less positive about some aspects of RTE's rugby's coverage, however.

"Someone who slates people should have a short shelf life as an analyst, but that's not the case. If you're paying a TV licence fee to RTE, they're supposed to put on a panel of experts but they don't. It's grand for me because I've played rugby and I can tell if a guy knows what he's talking about. But there are a lot of people who don't know rugby and they're listening to what he's saying and assuming he's a rugby expert when he's not and they deserve more than that."

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