Finbarr Flood was a safe pair of hands on and off the pitch, writes Liam Mackey
The phrase which springs irresistibly to mind when considering the many strands in the life of Finbarr Flood — goalkeeper, chairman of Shelbourne Football Club, managing director of Guinness and chairman of the Labour Court — is one which would have had its most literal application when he was operating between the sticks: he was a safe pair of hands.
Even, indeed, when one of those hands should have rendered him hors de combat. In 2006, the Dublin-born Flood – who was widely mourned when he died in July aged 77 — recalled in an interview how, playing for Shels in the FAI Cup semi-final in 1960, he had broken three bones in his hand. That should automatically have ruled him out of the final, of course, but with the club’s reserve keeper already injured, Flood had no option but to take to the Dalymount Park pitch on the big day, the damaged hand heavily strapped.
The result? A clean sheet for the ‘keeper and a 2-0 win over Cork Hibs which gave the Dublin club their first FAI Cup since 1939. In the same interview, Finbarr went on to explain how his little finger never set straight, continuing to jut out at an odd and eye-catching angle — a useful tool in his later life in industrial relations, he insisted, when he’d wave the hand in the air to engage everybody’s attention, thus allowing him to hold the floor.
From boots to suits, from dressing room to boardroom, Finbarr Flood made the transition look easy. He was, he liked to explain, something of an accidental ‘keeper having begun his football career as an inside-right before another finger — this time the fickle finger of fate — intervened. It happened in a shop in Liverpool during a trip his schoolboy team made to the city in the late 40s.
“We were buying postcards to send home when we got talking to a woman who asked us where we from,” he once recalled. “When we told her we were a football team from Ireland, she guessed I was the goalkeeper because I was so big.”
And so, in due course, he took a big step back on the pitch and a giant step forward in his playing career. Back in the mid-60s Damien Richardson was starting out as a player with Shamrock Rovers just as Flood was ending his League of Ireland career at Shels, having also previously played for Sligo Rovers, Holyhead Town in Wales, and Greenock Morton in Scotland.
“I don’t think I ever played against him but, as a youngster I watched him play many times because I used to go to all the games at Tolka Park,” says Richardson.
“I remember Finbarr well as a goalkeeper. Tall, angular, with good hands, a good shot-stopper. He was always calm, very unruffled, not one of the more eccentric goalkeepers by any stretch of the imagination. He wasn’t the most physical of ‘keepers either — he was more, you might say, refined.”
That, suggests Damien, was a reflection of a well-rounded personality which would later stand Flood in good stead in the tense world of industrial relations, just as it would in the often no less turbulent milieu of Tolka Park, when Richardson was Shels manager, Finbarr was chairman and the late Ollie Byrne was chief executive and a provocative powerhouse at the club.
“The way I remembered him as a goalkeeper was the way I encountered him as a chairman,” says Richardson, who twice managed Shels to FAI Cup glory in the mid-90s. “He was the most gentlemanly chairman I ever encountered. Working at Shelbourne, especially with Ollie there, it could be volatile. Not just at times. Many times (laughs). And Finbarr conducted his chairman’s business like his goalkeeping — he was calm, unruffled, always tried to see both sides and find the centre-point between everybody.
“He had a great love for the League of Ireland. He was a football man through and through. I’d talk to him after games and even if we’d played particularly well, he’d never get carried away. And if things went bad, he was never dejected or depressed. You could talk to him about what went wrong and you could talk to him about what went right, and he’s still be the same Finbarr.
“And that sort of rock-steady influence was very important to Shelbourne in those days. In a pressurised situation, that was great for me and I know it was for Ollie too. Many times, in heated situations, I saw Finbarr calm Ollie down in a way nobody else was able to do. Ollie recognised the same things in him I did and so we both had respect for him and admiration about the way he did his business.”
And when Damien talks about Finbarr Flood as “a football man”, he is not only referring to his days in the top-flight of the game in Ireland. One of his proudest achievements in the sport, Flood himself liked to recall, was coaching an underage team in Ballymun to a 2-1 win on the last day of the season — after they’d lost every previous match.
There was no essential difference, Damien observes, between the private and public man.
“I’ve been to his house on the edge of the mountains in Rathfarnham a few times and even at home he was same, a very calming influence, someone who talked very well, very naturally,” he says.
“And always highly sensible. I consider that a human art form which he perfected in all aspects of his life. If ever I had a problem at Shelbourne, I knew I could talk to Finbarr. I didn’t always get what I wanted — there’s never been a chairman of a football clubs who’s a miracle worker — but he was a very good influence.”
And an enduring one too.
“I got to know him very well, and my admiration for him only increased as I did,” says Richardson. “He became a good friend and that calm presence he had is a lovely memory to have of somebody.”
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