The John Fogarty Interview: Why is Kildare's Daniel Flynn so happy to step away from the county scene?

Daniel Flynn’s All-Star nomination and a Championship haul of 4-11 left Kildare fans licking their lips in anticipation of what he could achieve in 2019. So why then is he so happy to step away from the county scene next year? John Fogarty spoke to the forward.

‘Has Cian sent you?’

Daniel Flynn jokes at the idea you might have been commissioned by the Kildare manager O’Neill to help change his mind about taking a break from county football next year.

It’s only because you are trying to get your head around why he would do so after the stellar season he had.

Daniel Flynn

You mention he found his home at full-forward. And he agrees. You mention the goals. Of course, you mention the goals that lit up an otherwise drab summer of football. The one where he deftly lifted the ball over Rory Beggan after a penetrating run. The one where he claimed a high ball from Fergal Conway before sidestepping his Fermanagh marker Che Cullen and sliding his shot low to the net.

The ones in Tullamore and Derry earlier in the campaign when Kildare had been at their lowest ebb. And there was the outrageous one against Dublin on the opening day of the league. And don’t forget the efforts against Donegal and Mayo in back to back NFL outings.

There were several points too - 11 in the Championship alone - but the goals alone should have been enough to convince him that he would go from strength to strength in 2019. He knows what he did. He doesn’t need the reminders from his friends who also tell him two of his scores were shortlisted for TG4’s goal of the year. But he is not a man for dwelling on past glories.

“It’s nice to look back on them and they’ll be there forever to show people years from now which is good but when you’re in the moment you don’t think about how good they are. It’s sort of what comes to you naturally. I get given out to for not taking points when I should do but I’ve an eye for goal and when you’re in there it is worth having a pop.”

For a player previously known as a marauding runner, the switch to the edge of the square couldn’t have worked better.

“I don’t miss the running, that’s for sure,” he smiles. “I have the easy job. How I look at it is that all I have to do is kick the ball over (or under) the bar. I really enjoyed it. The year was great, I suppose, but I don’t really dwell on it. That attitude has let me down a few times because we might have a bad loss and sometimes I wouldn’t be upset. I believe that’s life and what’s the point in dwelling on it.”

He wasn’t always like that, he insists. Before moving to Australia five years ago, Gaelic football was “my everything. We (St Mary’s, Edenderry) won the Hogan Cup in 2012 and I don’t remember much about school; I just remember training for the school, training for the minors, trying to make the U21 team, trying to make the senior team. (Kieran) McGeeney was around at that time and football was my be-all and end-all. I went away then and I grew up.”

Much to the relief of his club Johnstownbridge - who also lost Paul Cribbin and Seán Hurley albeit temporarily to AFL - Flynn left Port Adelaide just over a year later with the only regret being he picked the wrong city for his Australian adventure.

I was in Adelaide and I found it hard to take to the Aussies as well. They’re a colder sort of people, I think. It was a huge learning curve. The professional side of the sport was good. What I found hard was coming home in the evening and I was idle. I didn’t know anyone and that was my main driver in coming home. Adelaide is a great place to raise a family, is how I would put it (but not for a younger man). 

We were at the draft and Adelaide were the first club that came to me and I took it with both hands. I jumped at it, I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into it. It was seen as a natural progression, that if you get this (contract) you’re a great lad and away you go. I’d look now at the likes of Jack McCaffrey and Michael Murphy who turned them down and I’d admire them for doing that at such a young age, to step back and think about their futures. (David) Clifford as well. I wanted it (the AFL move) but I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into it.

“In hindsight, I probably would have moved to Melbourne. I had two uncles there at the time, and just to get that support and social connection would have made a huge difference because that’s the biggest pitfall I found in Adelaide. I was the only Irishman in the club and I linked up with families through the club and they were great but I just found I was becoming dependent on them and a burden on them the whole time.

“I have no regrets about it. It’s something I would recommend for any young fellas because you grow up. The same as any young person does when they travel and then I came back with a huge amount of knowledge about how to train, how to carry yourself, how to eat.”

What Flynn returned to, however, was a culture shock. There were the injuries - he pulled a hamstring five or six times and had a Gilmore’s groin issue - but the biggest hurdle, as he says, was “what do I do next? It was hard to go back to an amateur sport. In Australia, you were training to earn money and you’re coming home to train for the love of it. Before I went, I poured my heart into but when I came back I found it harder to get going and I felt there was more to life.”

A six-week electrician’s course didn’t work out and it wasn’t until he engaged with the GPA’s player development programme that he found some clarity. He returned to a business course he had started in Athlone IT before transferring to Maynooth University in 2016 where he is now completing a masters degree in accounting. Once that’s done, some globetrotting is on Flynn’s agenda. This last while, he’s been plagued with “wish you here” photos from his county team-mate Niall Kelly as he jaunts around Asia with Monaghan’s Ryan Wylie and other college pals.

He briefly considered playing for Kildare in the league as Brendan Murphy did with Carlow last year but quickly ruled it out. A clean break is best.

“I love playing and I enjoy training but as somebody said to me is the juice worth the squeeze? You’re putting all this effort in from December onwards, the slog over Christmas and you’re missing out on family things and times with your friends all for a couple of really good times in the summer. I just want to play football with the club and enjoy myself for awhile.

“I want to go travelling as well - that’s a big grá for me at the moment. I think that’s only normal but the way things have gone but it’s nearly a bolt out of the blue if someone doesn’t want to commit for a year. It’s not expected. I don’t know where it’s going to end but it just seems to be spiralling out of control. It’s gone five nights a week. Lads in college are training at six o’clock in the morning and then are travelling home to train five nights a week. I know the Westmeath lads are training twice a day two or three times a week. I don’t see it ending.

I think it’s gone way too much about winning. For me, if we win a game, great and if we lose it it’s just a game of football. That irritates some people but that’s me. I just enjoy it. I like being around the boys, having the craic and going out. You do feel super when you’re winning but for me that’s not what it’s about.

Being in the geographical and figurative shadow of Dublin has nothing to do with his mindset, he insists. John Heslin now looks set to play for Westmeath in 2019 but there have been stories in the county of new manager Jack Cooney finding it difficult to attract players because of Dublin’s might in Leinster. Flynn is wired differently: “Dublin are a great team. It’s something to target, something to aim for. What spurs me on is playing. That’s what I enjoy most. It probably lets me down at times because I don’t think about it enough. Dublin doing so well doesn’t put pressure on me but it can be disheartening sometimes. If we’re to win Leinster, we have to be the best team in the country to beat the best but there are a lot of other teams in the same boat.”

If he did have doubts about his plan of action they came when he donned a tuxedo at the start of November. “I really questioned myself at the All-Stars. A huge amount. Just looking around the room and looking back on all the good times during the year, the highlights, I really questioned it.

“But I’m doing something for myself. Football isn’t going anywhere and it’s not as if I’m stopping playing. It’s a hobby. Some boys would say it’s their life and that’s their choice and for a long time I was like that but I’m stepping away from that now. I’m indecisive at the best of times and a lot of boys around the country would have loved to be where I was but it’s a decision I’ve taken. I’ve spoken about it with Cian and he’s been great. He said: ‘If you want to be here then pour everything you have into it. If you don’t then I won’t fall out with you. It’s your life, your choice’.”

Flynn discussed his decision with some of the older players in the Kildare panel as well as his family but there was never any significant attempt to make him think twice. “My uncle Michael loves football. He spoke to me about it but was leaving me to make my decision. It’s great because at home I’m not a footballer, I’m just Daniel. And I like that. A lot of other people would see me as a footballer first and I don’t like that.”

It’s not as if Flynn is the first All-Star nominee to take a leave of absence. Jamie Clarke returned to New York this past season having picked up an acknowledgment in 2017. His appetite for football replenished, Clarke will be available to Armagh again in the new year but Flynn can’t say that’s what he’s hoping his time out will do for him.

“I don’t really know what I’m hoping for. A good few of the Dubs have done it - (Paul) Mannion has done it, (Jack) McCaffrey… the one that sticks out for me was Rory O’Carroll. I remember reading how he came onto the scene and he was his own man. He was brought in during the middle of the league (in 2009) and told the manager (Pat Gilroy) he wanted to go travelling and the manager said, ‘You can do that whenever’. Halfway through the Championship, he tells the manager, “You know I’m gone in two weeks’ time?’ I like that and you should be able to do your own thing.” Flynn bids adieu after a remarkable Championship for Kildare defined by the county’s Newbridge or Nowhere stance and the win over Mayo in St Conleth’s Park. Flashbacks of the week leading up to it, and the evening, won’t leave him too quick.

“Everyone was piling on top of us afterwards. Had that game been in Croke Park, it would have been lost (in terms of occasion). As a group of players, we were grand the week before because we were cocooned from it all going to training. Cian addressed it with us on the Tuesday. He had been on the television the night before and said to us the following evening, ‘That’s done. The game is going to be here so let’s just train’. There was a good buzz and it was put to bed. Then outside of training when we were going around the place people were asking us and I was having the bit of craic. I was going down the road and people were shouting ‘Newbridge or nowhere’. I didn’t take it too seriously. I wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I can’t talk about that’. What works for me is to be able to talk. Some boys would be different and just want to focus on the game.

“To stand up to the GAA got people’s attention. There was a great show of support from the Kildare people. That was great to see because that buzz had been gone for a long time. We were very low after the league. We went up to Derry in a previous qualifier and there were only a handful of Kildare people there, family, friends and the real diehards supporters.”

Eleven-point victors over Fermanagh the following weekend, no team, not even Dublin, brought as much momentum into the Super 8s as Kildare but their wastefulness in front of goal cost them dearly against Monaghan in their opening quarter-final phase fixture in Croke Park.

“A disaster,” he says of that game. 

I think if it had been a normal, straight knock-out All-Ireland quarter-final it might have been different. It was a real dirty day and not to make excuses or to take anything away from them but had it been a dry day it would have been a different game. It was a sickener. It was a good game, tight and exciting, but we were sloppy and they were good. They stopped us playing. Vinny Corey, Niall Kearns and Karl O’Connell had great games and (Conor) McManus popped up a good few times with scores. 

We made too many mistakes and then we could have beaten Galway in another really good game. Then in Kerry we were six points up and Neil (Flynn) got the line and Hylo (David Hyland) picked up a black card. Even in the league, we were very close against teams but things just went against us. Maybe we peaked in the Fermanagh game, I’m not too sure, but we just didn’t seem to click on the day against Monaghan. We weren’t allowed to. That and getting sent off against Galway were the biggest disappointments for me.

Having turned 25 a few months ago, there will plenty of time after 2019 for Flynn to get over those setbacks. The thing is, he already has and he doesn’t feel he must return to being an inter-county footballer: “If you want to go, then great,” he shrugs. “If you don’t, you don’t.”

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