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Sunday 25 September 2016

History shaken by Flynn rocket

Five-goal rout in 2010 a turning point says Dublin ace who almost stalled it

Paul Flynn during the 2010 Leinster semi-final loss to Meath at Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Paul Flynn during the 2010 Leinster semi-final loss to Meath at Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Paul Flynn promoting Avonmore’s vanilla-flavoured protein milk. Photo: Sportsfile

"So we'll blame the dressing-room, will we?" quips Paul Flynn, harking back to one of his darker days in a Sky Blue jersey.

The passage of time, six transformative seasons, have made it easier for Dublin footballers to talk about that Leinster semi-final, but it's an itch that hasn't entirely gone away ... 2010 and the five-goal Royal rout.

Pat Gilroy's team togged out under the Cusack Stand that day - a rare departure from the familiarity of their Hogan 'home'. Paul Flynn wasn't back in that dressing-room until popping up there for a photo-shoot last week, in his role as a GAA/GPA brand ambassador for Avonmore's new vanilla-flavoured protein milk.

Ahead of this Sunday's Leinster semi-final in Croke Park, it brought memories flooding back. Not good ones either.

Today, that match is remembered for one stat only - Meath's outrageous five-goal salvo, reaping an 11-point rout. And yet there was an alternative storyline buried by that avalanche of green flags: after 45 minutes, Dublin came within an inch of drawing level.

Flynn should know: his team were trailing by just 2-7 to 0-10 when he almost broke the Canal End upright.

"I took a shot. It was going in top corner … and it hit the post and went out," he recalls with a wince. "They went down and got a goal. Buried around eight more goals or something - five goals they got that day."

To be precise, Stephen Bray landed his second goal three minutes later as Dublin's defence buckled. Their first provincial defeat since Westmeath in 2004 remains their last loss in Leinster.

Along with the Kerry debacle of 2009, the Meath meltdown of 2010 proved a watershed for what would become the new Dublin: resolute, streetwise, and ultimately all-conquering.

"It's funny," says Flynn, who has straddled both eras. "That was such a turning point … the way we set up. Went more defensive then. Got to the semi-final of the All-Ireland that year, should have beaten Cork.

"Sometimes you do need a wake-up call like that to say we need a drastic change, not just incremental change. That was an eye-opener. Certainly an eye-opener.

"I'll never forget the atmosphere that day. It was probably four-to-one Dublin fans to Meath fans but it felt the opposite."

You wonder was there an element of freak about that result? "I remember they were all screamers. Top corner. Joe Sheridan got one, Cian Ward," Flynn recalls.

"I hadn't scored a championship goal," he adds of his near-miss. "I remember it clearly."

By the time Dublin and Meath would renew summer combat, in the 2012 Leinster final, the former had elevated themselves into the All-Ireland pantheon and Flynn had won the first of his four consecutive All Stars.

Delight

They won by just three points, after a late Royal surge from ten adrift. A year later, Flynn would finally get to sample the delight of scoring a championship goal against Meath, but Mick O'Dowd's men made this a genuine Leinster final battle and actually led by two at the break.

Dublin eventually pulled away to win by seven. Twelve months later, there was no escaping the carnage: 16 points, and it could have been more.

This provides the context for Sunday's match odds: Meath are 14/1, Dublin 1/50.

But for a player just shy of his 30th birthday, Meath constitute far more than a facile June fence to skip over.

"If you think about the current team, some of them were born in the '90s - but I grew up watching Meath beat Dublin a lot of the time," Flynn points out.

"It kind of ebbs and flows; it's one of those really great rivalries.

"The last three times we've come out on top but, at the same time, you treat each one as a different case. Especially this young (Meath) team - a lot of them wouldn't have been involved in those games so they'll come in with an air of freedom and they'll be really going at it. It's still a Dublin-Meath rivalry.

"The Dublin fans are great. They'll be proud too. They always want to keep things on top. There's always a good, healthy banter between the fans … I remember teaching out in Ratoath College a couple of years back, in a past career, and half the school were Dubs and half the school were from Meath. That will lend itself to a good tension-builder."

Flynn was dismayed to miss Dublin's Leinster opener against Laois, tweaking his hamstring during the Nowlan Park warm-up. He's confident that fitness won't be an issue come Sunday, even if he's acutely aware of that looming watershed birthday in what is increasingly a young man's game.

"When you're young, all you've to think about is getting up in the morning, watching a box-set on TV, and then getting out to training. That's all I ever thought about!" he admits. Then along came the intrusion of real life - buying a house, settling down, advancing your career.

Not a fool

"This is my 10th season playing with Dublin and I've enjoyed every one of them," he reflects. "I'm not a fool, I'm not getting any younger - there's not as many 30-year-olds playing as 20-year-olds.

"Personally, I feel fit. We do fitness tests and I'm always top five, so there's no issue there.

"As you get older, you might lose that sharpness of pace more than your endurance. You can always build your endurance. My game is based on endurance - that five-yard dart isn't as important for me as it might be for an inside forward.

"That's my selling point!"

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