‘I felt like a fraud’: Fla finds some relief in retirement

By IndepthAfrica
In Sports
Apr 5th, 2012

JERRY FLANNERY IS a straight talking man.

You would only need to text him to find that out.

He’s not one to constantly spend the day with his neck arched downward and his thumb working overtime. So it’s not aloofness, it’s honesty when he says:

“If someone texts me I’ll try and text them back.

“But I could say, ‘if you’re going to text me today, do it between two and three o’clock’. So I can just deal with it all and get on with the rest of my day.”

Two weeks ago today, when he announced his retirement, the hooker was overwhelmed by messages of support and ended up glued to his phone for the entire day.

It’s not always that way, “if people were being a prick to me I’d just toughen up and say ‘yeah, fuck them.’ But people being really sound, all day; it just melts you a little bit.”

That heart melting marked the end of Flannery’s glittering – yet, all too short – career. Amongst the Triple Crowns, Heineken Cups and a Grand Slam, injury never lurked far behind

He could handle taking the knocks to his back, ankles, calves or knees and never returned to the field with anything less than 100%. Compartment Syndrome was different.

The degenerative muscle condition eventually took it’s toll on the 33-year-old, not only physically, but also mentally. Deep down he knew the truth for quite some time, possibly as far back as that September day when he handed out the test jerseys to inspire Ireland’s word Cup win over Australia. Still, he persevered so had to keep up a front.

He has gradually learned to become a spectator and thoroughly enjoyed a pressure-free day watching the Six Nations win over Scotland. However, he couldn’t abide being anything but truthful to the inevitable inquiring public.

“I could be coming back from the game and people would be shouting ‘ah, when are you back? We need you back.’ And I’d really want to just be honest and say ‘I don’t think I’m gonna play again’ but I’d be there ‘ aw, hopefully in a few weeks’ and I’d just feel like such a fraud, you know?.

You try to picture the bulky, wild-haired, blue-eyed hooker replying with his eyes fixed on shuffling shoes, but the image doesn’t fit.

“Now, I didn’t mind doing that for two years previous when I was struggling to come back from injury and someone would say, ‘when will you be back?’”

He sits up in his chair, his body language instantly animated into the more familiar, determined and positive character, “I’d genuinely go: ‘Jesus, I hope to be back in a couple of weeks.’ Now, it might be six weeks, but I’d always be honest.”

“I found that really hard, you know you’re done.”

Munster comes first

Even now, he is reluctant to darken the door of the club offices, insisting he won’t be “one of those sad players” who clings on to the glory days like a security blanket.

Unfortunately, it takes time to completely remove yourself (especially when you study in UL) and he was caught sneaking in on an errand:

“I walked in the office and Axel just saw me: ‘I thought you weren’t going to be one of those sad players!’”

“Ah, for fuck’s sake.” came the student’s embarrassed reply, “and the next thing Paulie saw me: ‘Ah, here he is…’”

So cutting the cord is not so easy. He could have bitten his tongue and collected the IRFU cheques until the end of the season.

On second thought, no. That was never an option. Flannery’s ethos is Munster’s ethos: you work, hard. You give your very best, every day, end of story.

‘Balls-out’: Flannery prepares for his last international appearance in New Zealand. / ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

“I could have tried to see out my contract until the end, but what I was really worried about was knowing you’re not going to get better and coming into training. The last thing I want to see is any of the young players seeing me go through the motions. Whatever I do I want to do it balls-out until the end.”

“I’d always look at lads and see how they treat the last few months of their career or their contract. You can feel sorry for yourself, but it’s still a class job to go training.”

And that’s the point, this should not be a sad story. A shame maybe, but pity doesn’t rest easy on the shoulders of a scrummager. Flannery is always quick to point out the brilliant times rugby has given him.

He has given plenty in return too. So there is doubt in most minds: What can you say to Jerry Flannery when you meet him at the bar, in the stands, on campus?

“Just congratulate me, It’s supposed to be good to retire from your job.”

- Jerry Flannery was speaking as a rugby ambassador for Guinness.thescore

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