It overshadowed everything in the club, really.”
Ballygunner chairman Ger Cullinan is talking about a recent bereavement in the Waterford GAA club, the passing of Pat Flynn.
“Pat had had a heart attack a week before he died and we knew the news wasn’t good. He passed away on a Thursday and it didn’t come as a huge surprise, but a week beforehand he’d been in good health, so in that sense it was unexpected.
“When it came to the funeral arrangements the family were probably in a bit of a quandary. The fact he passed away late on a Thursday would have probably suggested a funeral on the Saturday or Sunday, but the county final was on the Sunday.”
Ballygunner were involved in that county final, and if Ballygunner were involved, then Pat Flynn was involved.
“The family didn’t want the funeral on the Saturday or Sunday,” continues Cullinan. “That’s why it was put off until Monday. He had two nights in the church, which was very unusual — the last time that happened in Ballygunner it was the man who looked after the church himself.
“Normally when you win the county the team would go into the school the following day, but of course we didn’t do that, as a mark of respect. So the whole occasion was tinged with sadness, certainly.”
Flynn served Ballygunner loyally for decades.
“He was very important to the club,” says Cullinan. “The club was founded in 1954, when he was very young, but we won three senior titles in a row in 1966-68, and he was the team goalkeeper.
“He was also on the first Waterford U21 hurling team, when the grade came in back in 1964, and Waterford got to the Munster final that first year against Tipperary.”
For the following 10 years he or Michael ‘Muckle’ Foley of Mount Sion took turns as the Waterford senior ‘keeper, and one of Cullinan’s strongest memories of him was in 1974, when Waterford beat Cork against all the odds in Walsh Park in the Munster championship.
“The next day out Waterford played Limerick, the reigning All-Ireland champions, and were well ahead until the closing stages, when Limerick staged a comeback to win by a point. So he had a good career with Waterford at senior level.”
Running in parallel was Flynn’s club duty. He continued to soldier on with Ballygunner, though the glory days of the 60s gave way to barren years in the next decade.
“We regraded to intermediate and Pat played in the 1983 intermediate final, beaten by a point by St Mary’s, so he gave great service on the field of play, he was a great influence on the younger lads coming through at that time. When his own playing days finished he was a senior selector, particularly during the 90s but he was also focused on underage teams in the club.
“We’re doing very well now — our U16s won the county championship as well our seniors last weekend — but that wasn’t always the case, certainly.”
Cullinan points out for all their senior success at the time, the 90s and the early noughties weren’t a stellar period for Ballygunner at underage level: “We were very average at juvenile level to the extent we were in division 2 of almost every age grade.
“I became chairman in 1994 and we had one decent team but a lot of the other sides were pretty average, really. Then we got a decent team together and Mick Mahony (father of current county seniors Philip and Padraic), Liam Murphy and Pat looked after them from a young age.
“They won everything. The only real blot on their careers was the Féile, they got to the semi-final and lost that game.
“Pat was a big part of that success. He was a fantastic coach. He had a good way about him, he was very calm in dealing with the players... more than half of the team — the two Mahonys, Stephen O’Keeffe, Barry Coughlan, for instance — would have been on that team and benefited from Pat’s coaching. Stephen, in particular, as a goalkeeper. He had a great influence on him, and the work he did for the club in general — there was no limit to it. He was a fantastic character.”
O’Keeffe, now the Waterford senior goalkeeper as well as Ballygunner’s number one, gives Flynn due credit for his mentoring: “Pat was a big influence in terms of coaching and so on. He’d always come and do umpire when I was on goal — from U11 to U16 he was my mentor really, always in my ear, telling me what to do, giving me advice. I was new to the position, and when we trained there wasn’t a lot of specialised goalkeeping coaching, so a lot of the pointers I’d have gotten were from Pat.”
Another player who benefited from Pat Flynn’s coaching was his son Paul, who starred for Waterford for years. “He was proud of Paul, of course he was,” says Cullinan. “But he never really showed it, to be honest. He always treated Paul the same as everybody else. he never over-praised him.
“Behind it all he was very proud of Paul, but he didn’t go around boasting about his son and all that he’d done. He wasn’t like that. And they had a very good relationship. The characters of both men were very similar — they shared a great sense of humour.
“Pat got on well with everyone in the club, and with plenty of people in other clubs as well — he was a cutter in Waterford Crystal in 29 years, so he knew lads from every club in the county, and from Kilkenny. He always had a bit of a joke with them.
“He was just fantastic, really. A great asset to the club, a great man to have.”
Pat Flynn passed away on October 20. He is survived by his wife Betty, son Paul, daughters Jennifer and Louise, sisters Maura and Betty, brothers Tony and Dixie, and his six grandchildren.