Sunday, May 19, 2024

Paul Flynn talks Waterford hurling and golf – Irish Golfer Magazine

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This summer 20 years will have passed but he still gets quizzed on the golf course about whether he meant that strike and Paul Flynn knows it’s coming.

It was a shot he had practised in Ballygunnar, usually he would land it through the tyre but if his attempt against Limerick a few years previous went over rather than under the bar, that might have put Donál Óg Cusack and Diarmuid O’Sullivan on alert.

However, 16 minutes into the second half of the Munster final against Cork, Flynn illuminated Semple Stadium in Thurles with a rasping finish into the top-corner from a long range free.

“Until you said it I hadn’t thought of it but the odd fella will still ask you,” said Flynn.

“It’s funny enough when you are playing golf and you meet someone for the first time: ‘can I ask you a question?’ You know what it is and I’d often say yes I did, before they ask the question.

“It’s a bit of craic and I might still get the odd pint because of it, so that’s grand.”

Waterford and Cork will renew rivalries at Walsh Park this Sunday when the Munster Hurling Championships throws-in, the Déise have only won two provincial crowns since that day when Flynn top-scored with 1-7.

It was an era of intense rivalry between the two counties and names like Flynn, John Mullane, Dan Shanahan, Ken McGrath and Eoin Kelly rang out loud around the country.

“There was no helmets at the time, well helmets weren’t compulsory, and you could see the expressions, the character, the face on the characters,” said Flynn.

“You could see what it meant to them and people, it was more personable, people could relate more to people that weren’t stuck behind cages. You don’t even know what colour hair they have now.

“They were cracking matches, the weather seemed to be good at the time and Thurles was a natural venue for the home of Munster hurling as such. The matches just seemed to serve up day after day what people expected of hurling at the time and that’s kind of the way it was.”

Despite their 3-16 to 1-21 victory over Cork in the Munster final, Waterford lost out agonisingly at the hands of Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final. Their pain only worsened as they watched the Rebels go on and defeat Kilkenny in the All-Ireland decider.

Waterford had also lost an All-Ireland semi-final in 2002, this time against Clare, and although they couldn’t convert their golden era of success onto the national stage they picked up many admirers along the journey.

“Waterford traditionally would have been easy pickings for Cork particularly in the knockout era of hurling,” said Flynn.

“Then from ‘98 on we kind of started competing with them on a regular basis and obviously when you consider the pick Cork has to county Waterford it’s just apples and oranges but we had some really good players in our team.

“They had some really good players in their team and we had some great matches with them and to be fair for the bones of ten years there was never a puck of the ball between us and I suppose we were lucky at the time where we played when people went to matches more than watched on the telly.

“Particularly for Waterford people because it was a long time since they had gone to matches with real expectations.”

Flynn was part of the Waterford team that won Munster in 2007 and he retired a year later. He moved on to work with the next generation and was selector when Austin Gleeson starred in an exciting U-21 side that would win an All-Ireland final against Galway with 16 points to spare.

“He was the star of the show at centre back,” said Flynn.

“He gave an unbelievable performance, one of the best performances I’ve ever seen at centre back against Tipperary in the Munster final that year. Look Waterford is a county that needs everything, everything on their side, and having Austin Gleeson not playing is not an advantage.”

Gleeson is on a break from Waterford and won’t play this Sunday but Flynn knows the Déise still have every chance of pulling off an unlikely win, even despite their poor league form.

Davy Fitzgerald’s side lost all four games after their facile opening round victory over Offaly and will have to bounce back against Cork who beat them 1-21 to 1-19 when the sides met in February.

“Sunday’s match is huge for both teams,” said Flynn.

“There’s a hype around Cork at the moment that is more for potential rather than results so it will be interesting. Cork have to win, the expectation is that Cork need to win.

“Waterford have two home games that you’d be hoping that they’d perform well in and have a right go at winning but both teams need to win.

“Whoever loses on Sunday will find it hard to regain momentum and get out of the province, there’s a big Cork crowd coming down so anything could happen on the day.

“Waterford do need to get a result, they can’t afford to lose, a draw or a win would be satisfactory. They haven’t played well against Cork in the last couple of years, mainly because it’s been a dead rubber, they have been out of the championship beforehand.

“There’s very little talk of Waterford the last couple of weeks which is a good thing. Hopefully they will come out on Sunday and perform and see where that goes.”

Flynn was a latecomer to golf, he only joined Faithlegg in 1995 when he was in his early 20s and while he never studied the finer mechanics of the game, it all seemed to come naturally to him.

His first handicap was 16, then it got cut to 12, and all the way to two within just three years. By the time he joined Tramore he was playing off 0.5 and he has improved even further since then.

“I just played with lads and I got two lessons off Ted Higgins Snr in Faithlegg and he said to me just hit the ball out to the right, that was the lesson from Ted and I started doing that and I probably have had three lessons ever since,” said Flynn.

“A lot of my game is timing. I’m kind of lucky if the ball goes where I’m aiming but it’s something I enjoy, I was trained and everything as a hurler but I wasn’t coached into how to hit the ball.

“Most people that time hurling, just hit the ball their own natural way and then as you progress you start manoeuvring your wrists to play different shots and that type of thing and that’s what I started doing with golf, messing around with the ball and some days it worked, most days it didn’t and it’s still the same.”

There were other sports that came naturally to Flynn, most notably football where he ended up at Aston Villa sharing digs with Dwight Yorke during a brief stint.

Soon after he returned home to Ireland he would play in the Harty Cup, while a great hurling career followed, which included an All-Star in 2004.

Golf is his main sport now and he loves nothing more now than playing a fourball with Chris Butler, Dave Bennett and Cathal Ryan, while he watches even some of the leading professionals turn to hurling for some tips.

“A hurling swing is like it’s kind of a slice action down on top of the ball and the ball just fizzes off but you see Matt Fitzpatrick and Pavon and these lads now chipping hurley grip,” said Flynn.

“And I saw Matt Fitzpatrick up close there lately doing it and it’s like, that’s very much setting the right wrist and its working for him, I tried it out in the garden a few weeks ago and I nearly cut the ball through the shed door.

“I mean you see anything that works, I don’t have the patience to implement anything it’s just I played hurling naturally for whatever length of time I played it, I played soccer naturally and that’s kind of the way I am.”

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