JAMES GLEESON gives a Tipperary perspective on the career of outstanding Waterford hurler Paul Flynn who has just retired from intercounty hurling
We've all heard of the likes of Larry Guinan, Frankie Walsh, Ned Power, Tom Cheasty, Austin Flynn, Phil Grimes and other Waterford legends who have put on the white & blue jersey. Well this man has tormented us for many years but Ballygunner's Paul Flynn has decided that he will not be playing senior hurling for Waterford in 2009 as he announced his retirement a short time after the 2008 All Ireland Final against Kilkenny. Paul has being playing for Waterford for seventeen years as he began as a minor in 1992 and played for the Deise the whole way up to the 2008 All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship final.
He helped the county win a Munster minor hurling championship title in 1992 by beating Tipp in the final by 2-10 to 0-14 after a replay. Both Paul Flynn and Waterford were very unlucky not to have a minor All Ireland that year as Galway defeated them in the final by 1-13 to 2-4. Paul also won a Munster U-21 hurling championship title in 1992 when Waterford defeated Clare by 0-17 to 1-12 in the final and that team went on to win the All Ireland final that year when they beat Offaly by 0-12 to 2-3 after a replay.
He had to wait another ten years after that to win another trophy and medal for the county when Waterford made the breakthrough out of the Munster Senior Hurling Championship in 2002 by taking the Munster title off Tipp in the final by 2-23 to 3-12 in a very wet Pirc U Chaoimh pitch. That match was also a game where one of our own finest hurlers made his first championship start for Tipp, he was playing wing forward that day and banged 2-2 past the Waterford defence. Toomevara's Benny Dunne had plenty to say about the hurling Flynn had. ''He was a great sticks man and a great striker of the ball, he was just a natural forward'' said Benny. ''He was hugely influential to Waterford's three Munster titles and the National League title that he helped win with the county, he was a great inspiration and he helped bring on the likes of John Mullane and Eoin Kelly'' Dunne continued. Waterford were beaten by Clare in the All Ireland semi final in 2002 by 1-16 to 1-13.
In 2003, Cork beat Waterford in the Munster final by 3-16 to 3-12 and Wexford then knocked them out of the championship in the qualifiers by 1-20 to 0-18.
However 2004 was to prove another successful year for Paul Flynn as both he and Waterford regained the Munster Championship by beating Clare, Tipperary and Cork. The Munster final against Cork was one of the main highlights in his career when he put in a superb second half performance that helped beat the Rebels by 3-16 to 1-21. Benny Dunne adds ''The 2004 Munster final against Cork was definitely one of the games that he turned around and gave one of his best performances in because in the second half he was just unstoppable, he hit points over from everywhere on the field and then there was the amazing free he took that ended up in the back of the net and I think that was when he really started to turn the game around as he hit over a number of points after that''. Waterford were again beaten in the All Ireland semi final in 2004, this time Kilkenny the team that denied them that famous day in September as they defeated the Decies men by 3-12 to 0-18.
Flynn didn't win any trophies or medals with Waterford in 2005 or 2006 but in the 2006 Munster semi final, Waterford and Tipperary clashed and another fine hurler in the county marked Flynn that day. This man came onto the Tipperary panel in 2004 and ever since has been a huge addition to the squad. The 2007 All Star full back, Declan Fanning from Killenaule marked Flynn at corner back that day and had this to say about the talented man from Ballygunner, ''Yes he was a great sticks man, he was a natural hurler with natural ability. Ken McGrath was the main man in the backs while he was definitely one of the top two forwards along with Dan Shanahan'' added Declan. Tipp defeated Waterford that day be 3-14 to 1-12.
2007 was a fantastic year for Paul Flynn as he helped Waterford end a 44 year wait to win the National League title for the first time since 1963 by beating Kilkenny in a splendid game in Semple Stadium, Thurles by 0-20 to 0-18. He then won his third Munster Championship title with the county by beating Cork in the Munster semi final by 5-15 to 3-18 which was one of the games of the year played in Thurles and then beating Limerick in the final by 3-17 to 1-14 also played in Thurles.
Next up was two more exciting matches against Cork in the All Ireland quarter final. The first game ended with both teams scoring 3-16 each. Waterford went on to win the replay by 2-17 to 0-20 which set them up with an All Ireland semi final date against the team that thay had beaten in the Munster final earlier that year by nine points, Limerick. So it was to be Paul Flynn's fifth attempt to reach an All Ireland final but sadly from a Waterford perspective the Shannonsiders took revenge on the Deise by 5-11 to 2-15. Pau. Flynn had caught the eyes of so many hurling followers throughout the country in his hurling career for both his club and county and there is no doubt about it that he definitely deserved an All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship medal to go with the U-21 medal he won back in 1992 but while he was still involved with the county team, the big question was, could he win it?
2008 was to be his last chance and not many people would have expected Waterford to even reach the All Ireland final after Clare defeated them in the Munster quarter final by 2-26 to 0-23 but the men from the Deise came through the qualifiers beating both Antrim and Offaly on the way through. They bet Wexford in the All Ireland quarter final by just a point on a scoreline of 2-19 to 3-15 and that result got them to Croke Park for an All Ireland semi final date with the newly crowned National League and Munster Champions, Tipperary.
This was to be Paul Flynn's sixth and final chance to reach an All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship final with Waterford. Tipp had already beaten the Decies men twice earlier in the year, the first game was the Waterford Crystal Cup final when Tipp won by 3-13 to 0-13 in Templemore. The second game was the National League quarter final when Tipp won by 1-16 to 0-14 in Nowlan Park, Kilkenny. Tipp were also unbeaten all year going into the All Ireland semi final so they were firm favourites to play Kilkenny in September but it was third time lucky for Waterford as they finally broke through to the All Ireland final by beating us by 1-20 to 1-18.
Paul Flynn was only 70 minutes away from winning his well deserved medal from his service over the years as Waterford had a date with Kilkenny who were going for three in a row. Sadly however for Waterford and Paul Flynn the Cats were too strong for the Decies men on the day as they won the match by 3-30 to 1-13. Paul was introduced as a substitute on the day and got his chance to represent Waterford in a Senior All Ireland final in Croke Park but sadly the medal just wasn't to be. He retired a short time after the final and despite not winning the medal that he always wanted to win, he will definitely go down as one of Waterford's greatest ever hurlers of all time.
Both Tipp players, Declan Fanning and Benny Dunne talk about the man that will be undoubtedly missed by Waterford supporters, Benny Dunne says, ''The first I ever remember hearing of Paul Flynn as a hurler was when he was a prominent minor in 1992 and I believe he was also on the All Ireland winning U-21 team that year. I didn't ever see him play until the Munster semi final against Tipp in 1995 in Pirc U Chaoimh and I have to say that I was very impressed when I saw him that day. The first chance I ever got to play against him was in the 2001 Munster Club Senior Hurling Championship semi final against Ballygunner. The game went to a replay and they beat us by a point. I also got the chance to play with Paul Flynn in the 2004 Railway Cup final when I was introduced as a substitute but unfortunately Connacht beat us that day in Pearse Stadium. He's the first man I ever marked when playing for Tipp as I came on as a substitute in the 2002 Waterford Crystal Cup in Dungarvan. Paul didn't ever need to be physical because he was such a classy forward and sticks man'' added the Toomevara man.
I think that he is definitely one of the best hurlers in the last 30 years, he was certainly one of the best forwards of my time'' Benny concluded.
Declan Fanning also talks about his memories of the Waterford legend, ''The first time I ever remember hearing of Paul Flynn as a hurler was when he was both minor and U-21 for Waterford in 1992. I think that was his first year ever he played inter county hurling but the 1998 Munster Senior Hurling Championship drawn game against Clare in Thurles is the first time that I can remember seeing him play. When I saw him play in that match, I thought that he was a great sticks man and a natural hurler with natural ability'' said the Killenaule club man. ''I don't know who the first player ever was to mark him but I know that a man also from Killenaule was one of the first. Paul Shelley marked Flynn in the 1992 Munster Minor Hurling Championship as a corner back. There was some great rivalry between himself and Shelley. I was given the job of marking Paul in a challenge match against Waterford in Walsh Park in 2004 which was my first year on the Tipp panel. I also had to mark him in the 2006 Munster semi final. From my point of view, I thought that the 2004 Munster Final against Cork was one of the games where he put in one of his best performances ever seen from him on the playing fields when he really took control in the second half and the goal that he scored from the free was just unbelievable”.
There doesn't seem to be much that Paul Flynn couldn't do on the playing fields as he talks himself about his playing days in the white and blue jersey. ''I have being playing for Waterford for seventeen years. When I started playing senior hurling for Waterford at first I thought that it was the toughest part because we were trying to build a winning squad. I suppose winning the three Munster titles in 2002, 2004 and 2007 were my favourite moments in the Waterford jersey because it was so long since we had won one and it was just great to be part of the team that finally did make the breakthrough.
Every team that I have played against has been very tough to beat, particularly, Cork, Kilkenny and Tipp but I have really enjoyed playing for Waterford. I have played against some very tough players such as Steve McDonagh from Limerick, Michael Kavanagh from Kilkenny and Martin Hanniffy from Offaly but every player is tough, no matter who you're marking or playing against they will be tough.
There are still some fantastic players on the pitch today. Tommy Walsh from Kilkenny is a fantastic hurler, Eoin Kelly from Waterford and Tipp's Eoin Kelly also. The only advice I could give to young players is to practice the basic skills of the game and to try and improve their speed at them'' said Flynn. ''I think fitness levels have come up since the early 90s and hurling has become a more physica game. My father really inspired me to the game of hurling. He used to play for Waterford in the 70s. I would like to stay involved in the GAA and Waterford hurling some way but I haven't really thought about it yet.
Paul Flynn has tormented Tipperary backs for many years. 2009 will be the first year in seventeen years when he won't be playing inter county hurling. He will be missed by many Waterford supporters and will never be forgotton as far as Waterford and the GAA is concerned.
(Report by James