Flanagan’s wide smile of victory

By Michael McMullan

TIARNAN Flanagan’s smile always seems to be wider than everyone else’s and Sunday was no different. It was beaming and befitted the first hour as an All-Ireland champion.

From the moment he walked out of the Glen dressing room door, he looked like a man walking on air. That’s because he was.

He swapped relief for joy. A game slipping for all their honest endeavour was turned on its head.

“It’s like Ulster, it hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said through the grin on his way for a bite to eat before the Glen bandwagon headed north with Andy Merrigan as an extra passenger.

“Once you go up and see all the fans and your family, that’s the point it will hit. At the minute, we are just relieved more than anything.”

After spending the first half of the season playing with St Mike’s in Toronto, Malachy O’Rourke touched base with Flanagan every so often.

On his return, he eventually broke into the team for the win over Naomh Conaill and has stayed there since.

When Robbie Dolan wound up to take a shot when Glen’s house was down, it was Flanagan’s footwork that took him into position to make a vital diving block.

NEXT BALL…TIarnan Flanagan dives to make a vital block as Robbie Nolan kicks for a score

On the flip wide, when this crossfield pass was cut out, he had Michael Warnock’s chasing back and Connlan Bradley’s save on the line to prevent a St Brigid’s goal when the Glen ship was rocking.

“It very frustrating,” he said of Sunday’s final and playing in the tricky conditions.

“I kicked one away and it near came to a goal. The wind was very hard to judge up in the Hill 16 (end).

“You are spilling balls and balls going to the sideline. It is frustrating but you know you are better so it is (all about the) next ball.”

In the heat of battle, Sunday’s game rested on a few different moments and Flanagan relates back to his u-14 days and coach Denis Murphy.

The Kerry native, now living in Maghera, would preach about the importance of the next ball. The Glen players would write NB on their wrists…next ball.

“That had always stuck to us,” Flanagan said through his trademark smile.

“There are even players in there that write NB still, on a wee wristband.

“No matter what happens, it’s that next ball and that proves that, until the end, there is always going to be another chance.”

When Eddie Nolan kicked St Brigid’s into another four-point lead, 1-11 to 1-7, Glen’s wasteful afternoon in front of the posts looked like it would define their final.

There’s no time to get swallowed up by a scoreline or the clock. Keep plugging away and there will be another chance. Next ball, make sure you get the next ball.

Ryan Dougan had wrapped up Ben O’Carroll but Glen’s wasted chances at the other end and the ticking clock looked ominous.

Michael Warnock stepped forward to kick a monster score from under the Hogan Stand. The next ball theory was bang on. What about the next one?

Seconds later, Conleth McGuckian’s quick-thinking and pass had Conor Glass in the scoring zone with ‘keeper Cormac Sheehy far from his line.

Bang. Back of the net. Level. Glen were energised. Now they were the team in control.

“Conor had the last shot, last year, and it was saved. It was written for him to strike that again,” said Flanagan who scored the Ulster minor final goal for Derry when Glass captained the county to a first title in 13 years.

“I was right behind it. The ‘keeper took a step to his left and the bullet went straight, like a bullet.”

THE THREE AMIGOS…Tiarnan Flanagan, Danny Tallon and Conor Glass celebrate Glen’s win

Flanagan and Glass were close. They footered with a bit of soccer together with Draperstown Celtic back in the day.

It’s no coincidence than Glass making the return from Australia coincided with Flanagan fully buying in to project Glen.

“Confidence and complete professionalism…everything he brought back,” said Flanagan of what Glass offered away from his actual performances.

“He changed a lot when he came back. He’ll maybe not think that himself but he has…the way people act, the way they train.”

Had Glen finished the job last season, Flanagan wouldn’t have been back from Canada. Work and playing on a team littered with Derry man was the perfect mix but there was unfinished business with Glen.

It would take time to break back into the starting 15. There was a niggly injury and he’d have to wait for his chance.

“It is unbelievable, even the talent on the sub bench, the talent is out of this world…half that team is not far from county level,” he said of the Glen squad.

Malachy O’Rourke would offer a quiet word in Flanagan’s ear. Stay ready.

Canada will come calling again, but Glen will be hoping Flanagan sees the value in defending their Derry, Ulster and All-Ireland titles. They’ll want to see his wide smile from inside a green and gold jersey.

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