His name has been continued in GAA circles as a Dubliner makes the name famous in football. But for so long, the standout Paul Flynn in GAA was the Waterford hurler. Ahead of this weekend’s All-Ireland semi-final, we remember one of Waterford’s greatest ever players.
Waterford play Kilkenny in the first of this year’s All-Ireland hurling semi-finals on Sunday. This pairing forces us to reflect on the 2004 season when Waterford ran Kilkenny very close. Without the suspended John Mullane, it was a Paul Flynn inspired Waterford that almost caught the Cats. Flynn hit 0-13 that day and was Man of the Match on the losing side.
That day was only one of many remarkable performances from a truly classy forward. Flynn was part of the Waterford Under-21 side that won the All-Ireland title in 1992. This was the team that started the revolution in Waterford hurling that came to prominence in 1998 and has remained as a strong force in hurling since.
That All-Ireland title has eluded them, but they still have provided hurling followers with some outstanding occasions. Their Munster successes always provided great games as have their league successes. Paul Flynn was always one of the major forces behind anything good that happened in Waterford hurling and how their forward line is currently missing a player of his talent.
Flynn was at his best in the 1990’s, hence why the modern day media and followers are more inclined to remember the exploits of John Mullane and Dan Shanahan. Flynn first made his first big mark on Waterford hurling in 1992. Still a minor, Flynn led the minors to Munster title and he was also part of the All-Ireland winning Under-21 side.
1993 saw his senior career commence. Waterford were making progress but still weren’t making any real mark on the Munster championship. 1998 saw a change in fortunes as a young Waterford side, led by Cork man Gerald McCarthy, began to make inroads and were competing with everyone in hurling.
It was a team filled with big hurling names such as Ken McGrath, Tony Browne, Dan Shanahan and one of the key key men was Paul Flynn. He was the free taker who kept the score board ticking over and his audacity made him such a threat from placed balls and open play.
1998 saw Waterford qualify for a league final and a Munster final. Flynn will be remembered for his last minute equalising goal in the drawn Munster final. Waterford fell agonisingly short in the All-Ireland semi-final with Kilkenny in what was a real missed opportunity to win an All-Ireland.
Flynn continued to inspire Waterford. He was their key man in attack. He was never the quickest forward but his touch and reading of the game constantly put him in positions to finish. He was capable of scoring all sorts of goals and points, such was the array of skills he held in his armour.
Flynn continued to perform, while Waterford didn’t. That was to change in 2002 when Flynn inspired Waterford to a surprise victory over Cork. The game will be remembered for Ken McGarth’s winning point, but it was Flynn who won that game for the Deise.
He hit 0-12 including frees from his own half-back line as he led the Deise from centre-forward in every sense. He grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck on put Waterford back into a Munster final. His form continued with 1-6 in the Munster final. His first half goal was a classic Flynn free from 21 yards. He never feared going for goal on these occasions, such was his ability to finish.
Waterford would fall again at the semi-final hurdle but would continue to be a force in the game of hurling for the years that followed. 2003 saw more moments of class from Flynn. 3-3 against Limerick in a drawn game was followed up by 1-7 in the replay to put the Deise into a final with Cork.
Waterford lost that final but John Mullane’s second goal that day was just a great indicator of what Paul Flynn was all about. He lined up a free 25 yards from goal straight in front of the posts. An easy point was on, but Flynn’s quick thinking saw him pick out Mullane who buried the ball to the net. That quick thinking from Flynn was what made him so special.
2004 saw the one moment that summed up Paul Flynn. A classic Munster final took place in Thurles between Cork and Waterford. Waterford trailed Cork and needed something special to edge in front. Flynn stood over a free, again an easy point looked on. But in a moment of exquisite skill and class, Flynn went for goal dipping the ball with top spin a few inches under the crossbar.
Absolute raw class is the only way that goal could be described. To have the cheek to do so is one thing, having the skill to pull it off is another. If there was one score to sum up Paul Flynn, that was it.
Flynn had so many moments of class throughout his career. He was one of the most skilful hurlers of his generation and had an incredible ability to play off instinct.
His first time pull against Cork in 2005, his quick thinking against Cork in 03 and 04. His willingness to go for goal from 21 yard frees, the amount of times he scored points straight of the hurley without catching the sliotar; there are endless examples of all of these.
He was a truly class forward, that is probably not remembered well enough. So there is our tribute to another forward that the game is lacking so much in today’s game. Kudos to Paul Flynn.