“You’re not still going on about ’92,” quips Eoin Kelly on the balcony of Dungarvan’s Gold Coast Hotel.
Kelly is within earshot of fellow U21 selector and former Waterford team-mate Paul Flynn and simply couldn’t resist the jibe.
Flynn, you see, has been asked to recall his involvement with the all-conquering Waterford U21 team of 1992. It isn’t the first time his memories of that summer have been sought. Mind you, he’s dearly hoping that the class of 2016 will ensure it is a story that goes out of fashion come 6.30pm this evening.
It was the day or two after Waterford’s Munster minor final replay win over Tipperary when a 17-year old Paul Flynn was told that he was wanted by the Waterford U21 management of Tony Mansfield, Peter Power and Joey Carton. Management didn’t directly contact the players in those days and so the message was relayed by the then county secretary to the Ballygunner secretary before eventually landing on the doorstep of the Flynn household.
The Munster final against Clare was mere days away and despite attending just one training session, Flynn was given half an hour during the 0-17 to 1-12 victory over Clare in Thurles.
Focus then shifted back to the minor set-up where Antrim were comfortably defeated in the semi-final to progress the Déise to a first All-Ireland decider since 1948. The final chapter, though, didn’t read well as Galway, led by Cathal Moore and present senior boss Micheál Donoghue, marked their card by 1-13 to 2-4.
Flynn fell back in with the U21s who had also seen off Antrim to make the final. The decider against Offaly was played in Nowlan Park seven days on from the disappointment of the minor defeat. With 10 minutes remaining and the Munster champions trailing, the 17-year old was sprung from the bench.
“Obviously, you are anxious,” he recalls.
“Now, I was excited too. You think when you mark a 21-year old in training and you get four or five points off him that you’ll be grand. But championship is so different. You can’t be daydreaming. I was focusing on working off breaks because I thought the chances of me winning my own ball were slim. When you get a break or two, you are off and running.”
It was from one of those breaks with five minutes left on the clock that Flynn pounced for Waterford’s fourth goal to move them 4-4 to 0-14 ahead. His would not be the final say, though, as Brian Whelahan landed two late points to ensure a September 27 replay at the same venue.
Flynn was included from the off on this occasion.
“Kevin Kinehan was full-back for Offaly. Kevin Martin was wing-back. Hubert Rigney was centre-back. Whelehan was there too. I was marking Henry Kilmartin. It was a serious Offaly team and a lot of them went on to win two All-Ireland medals in ’94 and ’98.
“We had a good team too. Tony Browne was there, Johnny Brenner and Tom Fives.
“The replay went well, I hit five points.”
The replay went very well, Flynn finishing as top-scorer. 0-12 to 2-3 the final scoreline read in their favour.
“It was all happening. One week it was minor, the next week it was U21. You didn’t know where you were going half the time. I was wearing shin guards at the time. I remember having the socks pulled up for some stupid reason and there were shin guards underneath them. That was my soccer thing at the time, I guess. There were great celebrations after that win.”
It was to prove the sole All-Ireland medal he would win in the white and blue shirt and the grá he developed for the U21 grade that summer hasn’t waned in the slightest.
“I played four years U21. I loved it. The knockout hurling, you’d have butterflies in your stomach. I think the senior championship is now dead in the water until the All-Ireland quarter-finals. At U21, you have fit young men flying about the place who might want to make a point to a senior set-up and lads who are already on senior panels who want to use the U21 to further showcase their talents.
“Nobody knows what is ever going to happen at U21. That is why over the last ten years, in particular, some of the best matches have been an All-Ireland club semi-final or an U21 match where teams just go for it. There has to be a result at the end of the night. One team must exit, one must go forward.
“I went to the Cork-Limerick Munster U21 final in 2011. Aidan Walsh was catching balls out of the sky. Seagulls, as they say in Wexford. It was just brilliant. People carpooling on a Wednesday night going off to matches. U21 is man-on-man. It is unpredictable. It is hurling. It is instinctive.” Waterford haven’t contested a final at this grade since 1992. So, how does he rate the present crop against the men he soldiered with?
“This team has a couple of great players and others who will go on to be great players. But they are young men and they must go out and do the business against Galway.”
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