Friday 17 January 2020

Flanagan: Making move to Saracens just wasn't great for my career

JOURNEY: Mark Flanagan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
JOURNEY: Mark Flanagan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

It had to be asked.

What about the Saracens concession to the fine and points deduction for exceeding the Premiership salary cap?

"All I can say is they certainly didn't spend much of it on me," said Mark Flanagan.

The easy-going nature of the cousin and close friend to Devin Toner might just be the clue as to why he never quite made it at Leinster, Saracens or Munster.

He is back playing away for Lansdowne in the All-Ireland League after more than a decade in the professional game.

And he feels all the better for it.

Flanagan's story is one of the 'nearly man,' impressing enough in the know to sign contracts with three European powerhouses without ever truly meeting his or their expectations.

The Mullingar native started out in the Leinster Academy, climbing the blue tree for six years, until the roadblock that is lack of game time forced his move to the rugby backwater of Stade Montois in France's ProDiv2.

"I wouldn't really change the fact I went to France. That really made me as an adult, off the island, on my own, learning a new language," he said.

"It was part of an overall plan: 'how can I get back to the top-tier of rugby?'"

There was unforeseen adversity to overcome too, Flanagan literally abandoned by his 'no-good' agent just as manoeuvres were due to begin on his reach for the next contract.

That is when Niall Woods stepped into the breach to clear the way for a move to the Bedford Blues in 2015.

"I knew I wouldn't get into the French Top-14. I was English qualified through my grandmother Patricia Flanagan from York and wouldn't be seen as a foreign player."

The 6'7" lock did well enough at Goldington Road, the home of those Blues, to attract the attention of Saracens.

"I have a fond place in my heart for Saracens. It was a great place to be for two years. It just wasn't great for my career.

"How could you turn down the European champions? They came knocking. How could I say no?

"Now, I look back on it and think it wasn't the greatest fit for me. A club with more game time would have been better.

"The truth is there was nothing else out there for me."

Then, there looked to be a reprieve when Munster came calling for a second row on a three-month deal in the winter of 2017.

The world was back on its' axis, there were six quick caps to make everything seem possible again.

Then, the bombshell phone call, Mark McCall was invoking his contract terms as Saracens were in need of a lock.

"It was devastating. I was going so well at Munster. I was playing every week, if not starting, behind Jean Kleyn.

"I was rejuvenated, full of energy. It burned out quickly. It was just so frustrating to be taken out of that.

"When I returned to Saracens, I played in just two more Premiership matches for a total of five minutes."

And that was it.

"In January (of 2018), I was told I wouldn't be kept on. That really shook me to my core to go from November where I felt 'I can do this, I am good enough' to where I was suddenly on the hunt for a new club.

"There were not a lot of bargaining tools, in terms of game time. I came straight from Munster to nothing."

In the end, Flanagan had a choice to keep chasing those elusive goals or to accept what his career had been.

"The stress lifted when I made that decision to give up professional rugby. It meant I had more control over what I wanted to do."

It was just as well Flanagan had completed his degree in civil engineering in UCD.

It led him to link up with O'Connor, Sutton, Cronin, a consulting engineering firm, located in Stoneybatter.

For the years Flanagan didn't have in direct work experience, the company was attracted to his life experience from his time at Leinster, Stade Montois, Bedford, Saracens and Munster.

Who would have thought 'the bubble' would count as life experience?

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