Paul Flynn is, without any shadow of a doubt, the most talented hurler to wear the white and blue of his county over the past 30 years.
In the decade that I’ve been working as a journalist, the Ballygunner forward has been at the centre of many of this hurling era’s greatest matches.
Be it on a damp sod during the League or in Croker’s white heat, Flynn graced countless fixtures, striking some of the sweetest goals this or any generation of supporters has ever witnessed. For Flynn at his very best ranked among hurling’s greatest natural talents.
And now, at the age of 34, Flynn has announced his retirement from the inter-county game. But, to be honest, his hanging up the boots has not come as a huge surprise.
His commitment to the county had kept Flynn loyal to the senior cause for 16 seasons. And despite the wear, tear and surgery he has required to keep him kitted out in later years, his loyalty was unyielding. For this is a man who ran through walls for the Deise cause.
Flynn made his Championship debut on the most ignominious day in our hurling history, the provincial defeat to Kerry at Walsh Park back in 1993.
That his career was book ended by the cataclysmic reversal to Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final was a conclusion that his outstanding service to Waterford certainly didn’t merit.
And that Flynn now enters the ‘greatest players to never win an All-Ireland medal’ section cannot be argued with, not that he’ll draw any consolation from that tag.
After 46 Championship appearances, Paul Flynn occupies seventh spot in the all-time scoring list, having registered 24 goals and 181 points.
Consider the merits of the six men above him: Nicky Rackard, DJ Carey, Eoin Kelly (Tipperary), Christy Ring, Eddie Keher and Henry Shefflin.
Shefflin, who tops the pile and will ultimately set a mark which will not be surpassed for many seasons, has actually scored three goals less than Flynn achieved in two less appearances.
That Flynn deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as these giants of the game cannot be argued with.
The stories of hurlers past have turned men like Lory Meagher, Mick Mackey and Christy Ring into figures who could well have broken bread with the Red Branch Knights.
That many of Flynn’s greatest scores rank alongside the executory majesty that Ring also achieved with a length of ash is surely something worth stating.
Which, of course, brings me onto the 2004 Munster Hurling Final, and the day that Flynn scored the goal he’ll be forever remembered for. For only Flynn would have thought about going for goal. For only Flynn would have scored it.
A man down, Waterford faced a difficult task against a Cork team that just a few months later, would reach its peak when defeating Kilkenny by eight points in the All-Ireland final.
It’s the 51st minute on a searing Thurles day; the sort of classic Waterford and Cork have produced by the half-dozen over the past 10 years. Trailing and requiring inspiration after John Mullane’s dismissal, Justin McCarthy’s men required a rabbit out of a hat moment. And Flynn provided it.
A full 40 metres from goal, Flynn outrageously picked his spot and duly planted the sliothar beyond Donal Og Cusack and the diving Diarmuid O’Sullivan into the top right hand corner of the net. The ball travelled right to where Flynn’s mind’s eye desired it.
That the last two men who could have kept the ball out happened to hail from the home of Ring made this Ring-like moment of genius all the sweeter. It was a magnificent three-pointer, arguably the greatest ever demonstration of Flynn’s quick-witted talent.
If you’ve got a copy of ‘The Passion Plays’ DVD at home, stick the bonus disc in the
machine some night this week and recall the majesty of that glorious Munster decider. Watch Flynn’s goal again and again and savour it.
The ball doesn’t dart through the air the way John Fenton’s famous 1987 strike against Limerick into the same goal did. It seems to float towards the net, yet the men in red remained powerless to prevent Flynn’s free from reaching its destination.
It put Waterford ahead for the first time in the match. It was to prove a lead they would heroically cling to, with Flynn again at the centre of a wonderful victory.
No-one there that day in Thurles or watching at home considered it a fluke. Why? Because it was Flynn standing over the ball. Because Flynn had made such long-distance strikes a forte.
Yet, despite all the brilliant goals he’d scored up to that glorious moment, he’d never hit one as brilliantly as the goal that titled the Munster final in Waterford’s favour.
Fast forwarding to that year’s All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny at Croke Park, Flynn produced, in my view, the greatest performance of his inter-county career.
During a first half when Kilkenny threatened to over-run Waterford, Flynn kept the Deisemen in touch with some exemplary free-taking. At times, it felt as if he was making a one-man stand against the Cats. Scratch that: it was a one-man stand.
With four of his fellow forwards muscled out of the match, Flynn defiantly picked off his points and, with some help from Jack Kennedy in the second half, almost dragged Waterford across the finish line. But alas it was to be.
“But what of Paul Flynn,” questioned
Eamonn Sweeney in the Irish Examiner a day later. “Was ever so great a hurler so under-rated?”
Added Sweeney: “He nearly got them home, 13 points, four from play, several of them from frees on the outside edge of possibility. The finest attacking display on a losing team, in fact, since John Mullane cracked in those three goals in last year’s Munster final.”
Paul Flynn, scorer-in-chief of goals and points from the outside edge of possibility. Thanks for the memories, Flynner. You owe us nothing.