Galway forward Jason Flynn has his eye on the prize
The player knows the history but thinks this team is special enough to beat Kilkenny
Galway forward Jason Flynn: “I don’t think many players are remembered if you don’t win an All-Ireland; it’s as simple as that.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Six days after playing a central role in Galway’s incandescent All-Ireland semi-final win over Tipperary, Jason Flynn was back in maroon. The under-21 team lost their semi-final to Limerick by 0-17 to 1-20 in their first and last match.
It was a severe experience in the gravity of defeat and a vivid example of the unique role which Galway occupy in the hurling sphere. As a senior, Flynn played in the Leinster championship but with the county’s underage teams locked out of that structure, he effectively entered a dressing room full of strangers.
“It was tough. Some of us had never played together before. I haven’t played with a lot of them players before. It’s very tough,” Flynn says. “Every player would agree: you can play all the challenges you like but nothing beats championship hurling. Limerick had two or three games behind them and you could notice that in the first 20 minutes – they hit the ground running. Not saying anything bad – Limerick are an exceptional team – their work rate was unbelievable. They never gave us a second on the ball.”
Flynn still bears the scars of that game a week later when he turns up at the Lough Rea Hotel to talk about Galway’s prospects in Sunday’s All-Ireland senior hurling final. “I got seven stitches. A bit of glue. Got a belt. Happened in the second minute, was out of the game for eight or nine minutes. That’s a fleshy spot there. It was pumping out of it. It could be worse. You really want to get back on to the pitch as quickly as you can. You don’t care how they deal with it. That’s all you’re worried about.”
The sight of Flynn departing the scene for a prolonged period must have given Anthony Cunningham and his selectors a few anxious thoughts. The rangy Woodford man has been a key element of Galway’s renaissance.
Along with Cathal Mannion, he brings to the Galway attack a free-scoring element which has shifted the burden of expectation from Joe Canning and permits the Portumna man’s playmaking gifts to flourish. The unpredictability of Galway hurling teams has been a feature of summers for the past two decades. Big performances have come out of the blue, but nothing substantial followed.
The manner of their consecutive wins over Cork and Tipperary this year suggests that this year’s team have managed to tap into a more reliable form line. Even as Séamus Callanan concocted goals at crucial times for Tipperary, the attitude of the Galway players never changed. They just got on with it. That stubbornness – and deep-rooted belief – is something that Flynn has felt building over the season and even as the semi-final fermented.
“The first goal they got, every team wants to have a good start to the game and when they got the goal it’s hard because you need to get your mind into it again and concentrate again,” he says. “I suppose you really want to just keep the scoreboard ticking over and get the next score. Especially with the puck-out coming up, try and keep the ball up there as long as we can because there is nothing worse than them building momentum on the goal.
“You have to show a bit of character when the goals are going in, I suppose, and get your head back into the game again. You can’t be feeling yourself or your team-mates down at the other end of the field. I would have known that too as a younger player, watching games as a younger player, as a minor and even at a younger age, you would learn from it, and you learned that maybe they didn’t show the character they should show and as I came into the setup then I suppose you could see the work they put in and how much they deserve it.
“They really put their hands up the last day, the likes of Iarla Tannian and those lads near the end of the game, and some of the catches there from Johnny Coen and them . . . in any team as a forward when you see a back like that coming out with the ball and showing real leadership at the end of the game, it means a lot to the team.”
Although they lost the Leinster final to Kilkenny, Galway saw enough in their performance to take encouragement. It was at training the following week that Flynn heard the talk about Cunningham’s now-famous Leinster final salute to Brian Cody, when he told the Kilkenny manager he would see him in the All-Ireland final.
“I believed it, yeah. It shows the passion he has for it and just shows what he is like. He is very passionate for the Galway jersey which is great.”
From Cunningham’s public sense of certainty to the rebellious streak in the television interview given by Johnny Glynn to their on-field demeanour, there is a different feel about Galway this summer. Flynn played minor in 2012 and was an anxious supporter at the senior final as Galway went down after two thrilling games against Kilkenny. “All I remember was being a bag of nerves watching it.”
Perhaps, in some ways, it is easier to be playing. A gifted free-taker, Flynn was asked to take just one against Tipperary, a distance strike which he made look easy. As he says, the team is peppered with free-takers. “Apart from Cyril Donnellan, I’d say. And he’d attempt one too.”
When asked about Kilkenny, Flynn namechecks a host of multi-All-Ireland winning players and refers to two names that have been cropping up in news bulletins over the past few days. Jackie Tyrell and Richie Power will both be in Kilkenny’s squad. Power may even start: the Carrickshock man turned last year’s title run in Kilkenny’s favour with his casually brilliant turns in the semi-final and final.
Galway, though, have their own strength in depth. Flynn recalls the bright promise emanating from Niall Burke when Galway last played Kilkenny in September. “He’s injured this summer and I think has gone to America to play hurling.” Conor Cooney, meanwhile, has been passed fit since the semi-final: there is little talk of it but he may be sprung at some point.
“Conor is an unbelievable hurler. I think it was his best year last year; he was nominated for an All-star. Even for his club he’s immense, his free-taking and skill are unreal. It just shows the panel we have. He’d always be looking at your confidence, he’d say, ‘You are striking them awful well’, stuff like that. Small things like that will get your confidence going. He is still knocking around at training and it’s great to have him around.”
As Noel Lane said recently, Galway’s last hurling win is irrelevant to this year’s team as they either weren’t born in 1988 or are too young to remember it. It is something Flynn will be conscious of on Sunday but won’t feel burdened by.
“He’s right. It’s been a while now since they won one. A lot of lads wouldn’t know Noel. I wasn’t born when they had it won. I would have grown up with the stories; of course, I would have known about Noel and the goal he got. He got it on the day. I don’t think many players are remembered if you don’t win an All-Ireland; it’s as simple as that. You’re remembered as a player as an All-Ireland winner when you win one.”