There’s 28 minutes left in April 16th as I begin tapping this post out on the tablet. 27 years ago today, I made my Confirmation. For that occasion, I wore a white shirt and maroon waist coat. Needless to say, the rigout was purchased well in advance of the big day.
It’s just as well, because, had there been an opportunity to swap kit been available nearer the time it would most definitely have been availed of. For you see, the day after Patrick was added to my list of forenames, Meath were taking on Westmeath in the semi final of the National League. A very talented Westmeath team comprising players such as ‘Spike’ Fagan, Tom Ormsby, Larry Giles, Ger Heavin and their wonderful midfielder Noel Lynch who very sadly had to retire early due to an eye injury. As well as that, adding another layer of intrigue to the matter – as if it were ever needed in a local derby – was the fact that directing operations in the Lake County corner was Summerhill and Meath legend Mattie Kerrigan.
So, not only was it the case there would be nothing he didn’t know about those from his native county, he had brought their nearest neighbours from footballing oblivion to being quite a force at that time. Relatively speaking at least. A force that had raised quite a few eyebrows with their dislodging of then All Ireland champions Derry in the last eight in Enniskillen. On a 3-06 to 0-11 scoreline. Yes I do have a computer brain for these things!
Be mindful that back then there was only one National League final. Everybody could meet everybody regardless of divisional status. However, on the day the Oak Leaf County were floored in Fermanagh, the occupant of this seat was engaged in our battle against Down at Croke Park.
Now, apart from the fact we hadn’t beaten the men from the Mountains Of Mourne since they had delivered the most heartbreaking defeat ever suffered by a Meath team in the All Ireland Final of 1991, the game also marked the return of Bernard Flynn after practically two years out with knee and hip injuries.
That the diminutive diamond got back playing football at all was nothing short of miraculous. The most gutting aspect of his career being cut down with still plenty to offer was the inclination that the inflicting of the injury was no accident.
In those few games, there was a snapshot of the brilliance which had been fundamental to the greatest era in the county’s football history. Headlined obviously by the two goals he exquisitely stroked past Benny Tierney in the Armagh goal. The other major talking point revolving around Bernard that year was the unbridled cynicism of John O’Leary in taking him out when the returning forward would surely have blasted past the O’Dwyers clubman. And just to make the ghastly situation even more unpalatable, Wexford referee Brian White completely bottled what should been one of the most obvious sendings off the old ground has ever seen. Not the first or last time a Meath team were cheated by such an injustice.
After saying all of the above, to take in the most excellent Laochra Gael documentary about the former corner forward was to relive the exploits of one the greatest forwards ever to grace Croke Park, not only that but he was part of one of the best teams to run out on the old ground. A team which Vincent Hogan rather scandalously described as a “Killing machine” though he did in fairness acknowledge that they had to be in order to survive and prosper.
All those contributing – Hogan, Robbie O’Malley, Michael Duignan, Jarlath Burns, Tomas O’Flaharta and Tommy Carr – also recognised that the celebrated Royal County inside line of Colm O’Rourke and Brian Stafford and Flynn was quite possibly the greatest such triumvirate to ever trod on the hallowed turf. No doubt there will be rebellion in the Kingdom at such an assertion but I’d sit by it as long as wheels carrying me keep turning.
The overriding feeling having watched the programme was that Bernard Flynn was both moving and inspirational on and off the field. Part one of that may seem self explanatory, but it deserves elaboration.
There were times when it appeared telepathy existed between O’Rourke, Stafford and Flynn. Witness the second of the four games in 1991,an intricate necklace of passes between the three amigos resulted in thenlatter lofting over a mighty score. Prompting Ger Canning to ponder in commentary “Flynn, can he grab this game by the scruff of the neck? May happen yet. “
He duly did, but nowhere to the same extent as he almost single handedly hauled Meath back from the cliff edge against Down in the All Ireland Final. Indeed he may well have done, but for an outstanding stop by opposing custodian Neil Collins.
The player openly admitted that the miss “ate” him for years and, in fact,” Still eats” him 30 years on. It can’t, however, detract from what was the greatest individual display by a Meath forward in living memory.
Or, for that matter, from a truly remarkable career, cruelly and needleesly cut short. But a career which came at considerable cost to the man himself – physical, mental and financial. In that, under at least two of those headings, he is far from alone.
Hearing him relay just how tough things got for him after his playing days served as a reminder just how blessed we were to have our lives enriched by such glorious years. While learning of the hard times Bernard went through was quite moving and upsetting, the manner in which he has bounced back has been every bit as inspirational as anything he ever conjured on a football field.
More than that, where once this writer would’ve been highly critical of the lack of former players taking on underage county teams, decent structures have been put in place in the last few years. Results are begining to bear that out too.
The annexation of a few Leinster MFC titles in recent seasons has once again got the conveyor belt of young talent moving. With the result that Bernard and his fellow mentors, Graham Geraghty, Graham Reilly and Robbie Brennan, should have a very talented bunch of youngsters to work with if and when the Leinster U-20 FC gets going.
As for the young lads themselvea, if they’re not fully revved up by merely being in the presence of such greatness, a look at some footage of their Bainisteoir at his best should be enough to have them moving mountains for him. Here’s hoping!