Two other traits stood out though, and they were both physical. After the impact he’s made during parts of this year, it’s easy to forget that in 2012 he was still lugging a school bag around St Mary’s in Edenderry.
But, up close, his face was a reminder, a baby-look that would cause bouncers and barmen to rightly ask for ID. The other striking aspect was his frame. At 19, he’s 6ft 3ins and 92kg. The sort of frame and structure that led Colm Cooper to recently talk about skill being replaced by size in modern football.
Oddly though, for all the jibes about Kildare being no more than gym rats, he’s the exception to the rule when it comes to Kieran McGeeney’s team. Of the side that started against Louth, Morgan O’Flaherty, Mikey Conway, Emmet Bolton and Niall Kelly all fail to reach 6ft. True enough, at 6ft 1ins and 87kg, Peter Kelly looks like a rugby centre while Tomás O’Connor, an inch taller and two kilos heavier, changed the game upon his introduction. Indeed with a weights facility based in the K Club, many golfers have gone to the bar to report strange goings on after seeing groups of players pushing heavy objects around the car park for hours each January. But an Aussie rules team they aren’t. In fact to compare similar sports, that’s the best barometer.
The average height of the Kildare team that started against Louth came in at 185.53cm, or just under 6ft 1in. Hardly towering, with only Hugh McGrillen, Paul Cribben and Flynn himself reaching 6ft 3ins. The average weight of that Kildare team was 83.86kg, or a shade over 13st.
Now look at the stats for Aussie rules Premiership leaders Hawthorn. This year, their squad average came in at 188.5cm and 91.2kg, making them a little higher but over a stone a man heavier. On top of that, they’ve 12 players that look down on Kildare’s tallest.
Little wonder that in 2006 when BBC Northern Ireland went to visit Marty Clarke, who was starting his journey in Collingwood, the Down man said he thought it would take three years to make a breakthrough. After all, consider their training. On his arrival in the famed Lexus Centre, he found team-mates lifting 130kg when he’d never lifted any more than a bag of coal, while others headed off to the altitude room where players run at simulated altitudes of around 3,000m to build up oxygen-intake capacity.
So are Kildare really that big? No, and this was a side that heading into the All-Ireland quarter-final last year was believed to be the only one that could match Cork for size. But as Dublin showed recently, the key can be speed and that suggests a new juncture in Gaelic games that might shave back some of those figures for brawn. There are many things you can’t teach, and there’s no training a player to sprint like Jack McCaffrey. But when Ed Coughlan came in as strength and conditioning coach under James Horan in Mayo, he started teaching players how to run properly and more efficiently, and to run faster.
It all brought to mind a college football programme on ESPN recently where one of the analysts was talking about a conversation he had with the Ole Mississippi Rebels strength and conditioning coach, as they’ve to play a much bigger Alabama team each year. That coach seemingly talked about the difference between training for strength and training for power. Strength is how much you can push and lift, power brings in the speed component, namely how fast you can push and lift that same weight. Furthermore, he said when you train that way, it means it’s not how hard you hit someone on the field that’s decisive, but how fast you hit them, as who hits first matters in a contact zone.
That made sense when you saw other players come in behind Dan Flynn on Saturday. Kildare had won the game with their power in the last 10 minutes, even if they weren’t all that big.