Master of his own destiny
By Simon Lewis
Jerry Flannery has already moved on with his life. The decision to end a glittering professional rugby career that brought two Heineken Cups for Munster and a Grand Slam with Ireland is one the Limerick hooker is at peace with.
A year ago, when stuck on the sidelines, not playing rugby provoked a bitter reaction in him. Now the realisation that after more than two years of injury problems he must end his dream and it has left the 33-year-old in remarkably philosophical mood.
“It is obviously not something you do lightly but I have been struggling with [the injury] for a while now,” Flannery said. He was announcing his decision to retire on the University of Limerick campus where his life as a professional rugby player has transitioned seamlessly into one as a student in the midst of a masters degree in sports performance.
“When I came back from the World Cup… to break down again there were obviously questions about what my future held. So I applied for the course.
“It didn’t start until late January and I had a fair bit of time, so if things came right for me I could continue as I am. For now I am just studying and I’ll keep training. The masters will finish in December.
“I have a routine. I see some of the lads who come out and they lack routine. It is a difficult transition period when you retire because rugby is every single week, you know exactly where you need to be every hour of the day nearly. So to come out you can get a little bit lost, which would make it a little bit harder. But I am enjoying the college thing at the moment and it is relevant to me because it is sport.”
Flannery’s second-half appearance against the United States last September 11 in New Zealand was the last time the hooker saw action on a rugby field. It had appeared he was finally on the road back after a couple of years on the sidelines suffering false dawns but when he broke down again there also came acceptance of a sort.
“When I broke down I came back and it hasn’t been coming around for me. Last season I was starting to get quite bitter, I broke down again during the Six Nations last year training with the lads and I found it very hard.
“I wasn’t getting too much return for the amount of effort I was putting into it. I was getting bitter. I was really worried that I’d spend 25 years of my life playing a game and end up retiring and being angry with it.
“So when I got to the World Cup I was delighted and it was a really good experience. Then when I came home then after breaking down, I had Wally [David Wallace] and Felix Jones on long-term injuries and I said I’d give it another go, and we had Dave O’Sullivan our new physio here, I said I had nothing to lose really. I have been working hard on it the last six months and I don’t really find it’s getting any better.
“You keep working at something but I didn’t want to get that stage where I got really bitter at rugby again. That’s why after talking with the medical staff they just said it doesn’t seem to be coming around. Unfortunately I’ve had to retire.”
Like many players, it is the camaraderie of the squad Flannery will treasure most about his playing career. But unlike many players, he has thought about how those experiences will transfer to his new life beyond it.
“You could pick the Grand Slam or Munster’s first Heineken Cup win but I think what you miss the most, what I love about rugby is that you work so hard during the week and then you have that period at the weekend when you get tested, you play your game and then you sit there with your mates afterwards in the dressing room and say, ‘we did it’ or ‘what have we got to do to do better next week’.
“And I love that feeling. It is a real tangible work-reward kind of thing. That is something you have to work on going into the next phase of your life. Just chatting with some of the lads about it, if I make a mistake at training on Wednesday, the coaches come in and they’ll bawl me out of it.
“It is in no uncertain terms because we are going to get tested again on Saturday and we’ll pay for it. But in the real world, if someone doesn’t do their job correctly and you come in and tear into them, it is not generally accepted as well. It is trying to tone things down a little bit, in college and work and stuff.
“These are the things that I have been thinking about, the crossover.”
If Flannery adjusts as well to that as he has in dealing with the decision to retire, then he will be just fine. He is certainly more at ease with the concept than he would have been last year.
“Absolutely. I went to the Irish games and I went to Ireland-Scotland [on March 10] and I really enjoyed the game. Where the year before I would have been hateful and jealous.
“If you ask any player, if you want to play and there is someone in your role, you want to be there. But I was able to say to myself, I have had my time. And what you start to realise is you get perspective. If you are not playing for Munster somebody else is, if you are not playing for Ireland somebody else is. Someone has to fill the jersey and when you get the chance it is what you do in it that counts.”
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