Bernard Flynn during his stint in recent years as manager of Mullingar Shamrocks. PHOTO: JOHN MCCAULEY

Flynn: Cooney ‘deserves four to five years’ as Westmeath boss

GERRY BUCKLEY chatted to legendary former Meath corner forward and adopted Mullingar man, Bernard Flynn, about what lies ahead for football in Westmeath when the coronavirus outbreak ends

Some local wags have honed in on the Covid-19 driven lockdown measures to jest that “at least our footballers will now avoid an unmerciful hammering at the hands of Dublin in the Leinster championship”!

Be that as it may, this columnist spoke to the ever-obliging adopted Mullingar man and Meath legend, Bernard Flynn, last Thursday to get his views on the state of Westmeath and Leinster football, and how he sees the current sporting impasse working out in the months ahead.

In relation to the possibility of Gaelic football resuming during the remaining eight months of 2020, Flynn was typically forthright, opining: “I can be a stern critic of the GAA, but I support them for holding out as long as they can. Lads are doing their own training at the moment, including my own lad Billy (a Flanagan Cup medallist in 2018), who has gym facilities at the back of the house, and they are living with a glimmer of hope. It is a lonely task for them, it is not easy, and it is not enjoyable.

“The mentally strong young people will get through this, no problem, but I know from other parents that there are some who are not handling this well. The youngsters who are struggling have to be helped and supported, whatever it takes.”

The former ace corner forward continues: “I worry that if there is a second wave of this in the winter, next year will be badly affected, and the GAA would be in savage trouble as an organisation. However, if the GAA say now that will be no inter-county or club activity this year, they are taking that hope away from fellows. I think they are right to hold out.

“Personally, I don’t see inter-county games being played this year, absolutely not. But I do think that there may be club games in October/November, no earlier than that.

“They could play all the games in TEG Cusack Park and easily fit 1,000 to 1,500 people with proper social distancing measures. If it goes later than that, I’d scrap the club championships.

“I know some players have expressed their concerns at playing games in what is a contact sport, regardless of the size of the crowds, and their wishes have to be taken into consideration. There would have to be proper testing before and after every game,” he adds.

Of course, this was meant to be the year that the all-conquering Dubs would try to extend their record Sam Maguire Cup five in-a-row to an even more remarkable six. Flynn feels strongly that the current shutdown will hinder the Metropolitans’ ambition.

“I’ve been chatting to a few very shrewd people in the game and I think the team that this lockdown hinders most is Dublin. Momentum is a massive thing in sport.

“Meath were going for three All-Irelands in-a-row in 1989 and should have beaten Dublin, but we didn’t, and there was a fall-off for a year after it. The Dublin players are now reflecting on what they’ve won and achieved, absorbing it, and enjoying the time out.

“That’s grand for now, but it mightn’t be the best for Dessie Farrell and Dublin going forward. The clock stops, the body stops, and the strength and conditioning mightn’t be just the same. Likewise, the appetite and the hunger has to wean off.

“It’s a huge ask for Dessie to pick them up psychologically after this,” the former Mullingar Shamrocks player and manager states.

So that does that give Westmeath and the rest of the chasing pack in the race for the Delaney Cup hope in 2021? Again, the reply is blunt:

“The answer to that is ‘no’ for me. I think Dublin’s second team would probably win Leinster. I do think it would be a brilliant Leinster championship without Dublin! For the likes of Westmeath playing them, you’re straight away into a thought process of ‘what draw will we get in the ‘back door’?’

“Meath got promoted to Division 1 last year and made the ‘super eights’ – the two boxes that Andy McEntee probably wanted to tick – but, for me, the biggest single disappointment was the Leinster final display against Dublin (who defeated their one-time nemesis by to 1-17 to 0-4). It was a mega-opportunity missed by Meath to create new heroes for young followers who don’t remember 1987, 1988, 1996 or 1999 (their last four All-Ireland wins).

“Are we any closer to Dublin now? No. I expect Dublin to win Leinster for the next two to three years, and at a canter,” the Royal County maestro opines.

And how does he see the current state of football in the county in which he has lived for close on three decades?

“The championship hammerings that Westmeath got at the hands of Dublin in recent years haven’t done the county any good at all. It actually put a lot of the players back.

“Westmeath, Meath and Kildare should be the counties challenging Dublin in Leinster, but since Westmeath beat Meath in 2015, how many of the winning players that day have kicked on and improved? Honestly, there are none that I can think of.

“I think the appointment of Jack Cooney was a very good one. I think he should get at least four or five years. He’s a home-grown guy and I think, in time, he will give most people their chance if they are good enough.

“There are players on the team that I feel are in decline, rather than going the other way,” Flynn concludes.

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