Back in the day, pen pictures were a staple of all match programmes. Even the tattiest programme would have a list of what age a player was, their occupation and what they had won. In the case of the Waterford hurling team, this would involve a buttock-clenching trawl through every club prize they had won right back to underage level, while the opposition would have their CV peppered with myriad national titles.
Happily those days are gone, and one need only look at the honours won by Paul Flynn to see that. Inter county titles include one All-Ireland U-21, three Munster seniors, one Munster U-21, one Munster minor, one National League and an All Star award. Even the seven club titles he won with Ballygunner are topped off with the long-awaited Munster crown in 2002. None did more to ensure those barren pen pics became a thing of the past.
(This is not to denigrate club success. One only need look at John Mullane’s euphoric comments after captaining De La Salle to the county title last week to know how much the club can mean to even the most decorated of players. But someone in Waterford is going to win the county title every year. The amount who have won inter county titles are numbered in the dozens.)
It is not as if Paul Flynn did it alone. It is arguable that the likes of Tony Browne and Ken McGrath made a greater contribution over the last 15 years. What can not be disputed is that Flynn was the standard bearer for Waterford’s revival since 1992. The horrors of the 1980’s are a scar that will never heal in Waterford, but 1992 was indeed a balm. Younger readers would be stupified to know that qualifying for the Munster minor final was an achievement for Waterford back in those days – getting there again would be nice, but these were times when that was as good as it got.
I wrote extensively about this several years ago, so the masochistic among you can read that. The relevant issue is that Flynn had the dreams of an entire county levered onto his back. Such expectation has broken many a man, in all walks of life. Several times over the next few years Flynn would be the target of people’s wrath when Waterford failed to even meet our occasionally low standards. Losing to Kerry was not the most auspicious of debuts, and after that people were wondering whether he was all that. While he scored a skipful of goals and points on the day, the rumour mill was buzzing with the suggestion that he had put a 21 metre free wide late in the game when Waterford needed a goal. As stated earlier, it might have broken a lesser man.
Whether true or not, the story highlights one negative thing about Paul Flynn which cropped up now and again: his freetaking. The casual observer may be surprised by this comment, with even the headline writer for the Tribune falling into the trap that he was deadly with the dead ball. He was not, his freetaking style based on hitting the ball as hard as possible rather than gently guiding the ball between the sticks a la Henry Shefflin. When he was standing over a free any more than 30 metres out, many a prayer was offered up on the terraces for what should have been certain scores.
The corollary of this policy of trying to split the sliothar was his breathtaking record from frees closer to goal. There were many memorable instances of this phenomenon – his ICBM against Cork in 2004, or his nerveless effort against Clare in 1998 (the single most euphoric moment of my life) – but the most illuminating goal was against Cork in 1999, when the entire Cork defence leapt in anticipation of a trademark rocket only for his mis-hit shot to apologetically bobble under them all. It wasn’t just frees. For such a burly lad he had could turn on a six pence and for such a nimble lad opposition hurleys would be brushed aside like matchsticks as he bore down on goal. It was thrilling stuff and when his team mates finally came up to his standards, Waterford started to win things.
He always kept going, and he never talked bull to either himself or to us. Brian Corcoran would famously ridicule Waterford for always blaming anyone but themselves for failure, but he couldn’t have been thinking of Paul Flynn when he said that. In the heady aftermath of that draw with Clare, Flynn’s disappointment at coming short in an interview that evening on The Sunday Game was acute. Similarly, around that time he was interviewed by one of the Sunday papers where he confessed to being chastened by Clare’s breakthrough in 1995 on the basis that it should have been us, the team that beat Loughnane’s Under-21’s in 1992. No self pity, and a large slice of self-deprecating good humour – if even half the things he said in that interview with Kieran Shannon are accurately recounted, he’s as witty a man as has ever picked up a hurl.
Doing it for no money and precious little glory, Paul Flynn still earned no money from it but got a not-inconsiderable amount of glory. He kept it up despite all the shameful brickbats from his own side, and their should be no Déisigh who would not put their cloak across a puddle lest he should be in danger of getting his feet. Enjoy your retirement, Paul. You will be missed.