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Tuesday 16 January 2018

Flynn: I was too obsessed with football at the expense of life

Dublin ace happy to take a more balanced approach

17 September 2017; Dublin's Paul Flynn celebrates following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
17 September 2017; Dublin's Paul Flynn celebrates following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

On the day the curtain fell on his blockbuster inter-county career, Seán Cavanagh battled the contrasts of emotion and confusion about how it ended to issue some lofty plaudits to the Dublin team that had just finished him off.

Tyrone were, Cavanagh felt beforehand, in a better position this year than they had been since 2008 to survive until September and thrive therein.

They had already broken Donegal, their bête noire this decade, and reduced the Ulster SFC to their own personal fiefdom.

Their ascent was confirmed. All that remained to be decided was just how high they could go this year.

And then, on the last Sunday in August, Dublin took them apart with a mixture of the precision of a surgeon and the sympathy of an executioner in a performance that sent shockwaves around the football scene and suggested a change in the groupthink around how best to go about the task of being successful.

"Every one in that group tried their best and we've just come up against probably the greatest GAA team I've ever played against and I've told a few of the Dublin lads (that)," Cavanagh said, battling waves of sadness and bafflement in Croke Park that day.

"It's tough luck to be part of an era and a team of that magnitude that's dominating the sport in a way that I never thought was possible to dominate.

"That win today? I just can't understand how far ahead of everyone they are. I didn't think they were that far ahead but you have to give it to them.

"They are an incredible set of athletes and an incredible set of football players."

The defeat, 12 points in size but greater again in significance, suggested that not only were Dublin playing the game at a different level to Tyrone, they were taking ir to heights where no-one else could breath.

Afterwards, Joe Brolly reckoned the hybrid defence was now emphatically out-dated and heralded a new, more expressive part of football's evolution cycle.

System

"I don't know. I don't think so," says Paul Flynn now when asked whether that particular method, the system Dublin have met and raged against so often these past few years, is now stale beyond use.

"I think there will still be teams who will set up that way. But," he adds, "I think it may give teams a bit more to think about, especially how they set up against Dublin."

As it went, Mayo's performance in the All-Ireland final demonstrated again the benefit of taking the game to Dublin, rather than constructing a shield and inviting them to break it down.

In doing what they did to Tyrone that day, all Dublin ultimately managed was to kill the perception that they are vulnerable to such tactics.

And though incredibly, given the frequency of their meetings, they haven't beaten Dublin since 2012, Mayo are the one team that consistently stop Jim Gavin's team setting the agenda and playing big games on their own terms.

"I think I heard one of the Monaghan players - was it McManus? - who said they would get in our face….because they would have played like that against us in the League," Flynn points out.

"They were right up in our faces in the League, they should have beaten us that day."

"So you can get change out of it."

"Obviously the way Mayo played in the final was very much in our faces. Obviously the way we played against Tyrone that day…we played very well…but I would say teams will set up differently but we always like to evolve."

This season was one of great frustration, if ultimate glory, for Flynn.

Two calf injuries either side of Dublin's Championship opener couldn't have been any more unfortunately timed.

And though he played a part in the All-Ireland final on Dublin's crowning afternoon, Flynn started and finished that afternoon on the bench.

For all that, he reckons he has managed to reach a better balance in his life of late, something he hopes will extent his inter-county career well beyond his 31 years.

In December, Flynn married long-term girlfriend and ladies All-Ireland winner, Fiona Hudson.

He has better established himself professionally too, as commercial director for Lincoln Recruitment, a development he owes to returning to education relatively later in life.

"I went back to be a teacher," Flynn recalls. "And when I finished off my degree and I was doing my Dip, I enjoyed it.

"But it didn't take me long to realise this wasn't what I wanted to do after football. But the reason I went into it, the main driver, was that I would have my summers off to play football.

"So even though I was going back to college, I was still thinking about football.

"The way I see it now was, between 21 and 24, I thought about football around 90 per cent of the time and everything else, 10 per cent of the time."

Flynn's obsession with football was, he admits now, "to my detriment.

"Because I lost touch with some friends. I didn't concentrate on my career. But then you start to realise you have to have more of a balance. I'd say now with regards to work and sport, it would be 50/50."

Kick ball

"Say, for instance, I was in college. Myself, Michael Murphy, Kieran Gavin and Donie Shine were living together. We would go out in the middle of the day between lectures and kick ball.

"Or we'd be talking about it. Or we'd be going to the gym. Everything was all about football."

"I just didn't feel there was anything else…this was the most important thing in life. To play Gaelic football.

" It still is one of the most important things in my life but you realise, there is more to life.

"My fiancé, my family, my friends. The business' I'm involved in. And it's important you have them. Because if you take football away, what are you left with?"

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