Three seasons ago Jason Flynn, got a glimpse of somewhere he wanted to be at some time in the future - in Croke Park on All-Ireland senior final day.
The flying Galway attacker was sitting in the Hogan Stand on that afternoon in 2012, watching his beloved county playing Kilkenny in a pulsating All-Ireland final that was only decided after a replay.
“I was a bag of nerves both days,” he recalled this week as he looked forward to playing in his first senior decider. “Looking out at the game, the pitch, the action, as a young lad, you say to yourself I would love to be there. Luckily, now I am getting the chance to do it.”
In that 2012 season the Tommy Larkins clubman was part of the Galway minor team that was beaten by Tipperary in the semi-finals. For him, the action in the senior final was inspiring.
“Even from watching the game in 2012 you learn a lot from it,” he smiled. “The final can be nerve testing, but you can absorb energy from the crowd.”
Three years later is a short hop to what Flynn is about to do on Sunday, facing well versed defending champions, Kilkenny in the decider. This will be his fourth clash with the Cats, having being involved in both championship ties last season, plus this year’s Leinster final when he came off the bench to rattle home a goal.
Flynn (22) was on fire in the semi-final against Tipperary, shooting five points from play.
“Look, it is great to be where I am,” he continued to smile. “When you are young you play enough All-Irelands up against the gable end of the house. I must have played 50 All-Ireland already. Now for the real thing.”
On a light note, we enquired about how many of the imaginary finals he had won?
“I won them all,” he laughed as he joined in the fun.
For Flynn, who stands an imposing 6’ 4”, the replay victory over Dublin was the game that ignited the Summer for Galway.
“Things really took off from there,” he insisted. “We learned an awful lot from the draw with Dublin. I think we have improved in every game since. That is the main thing, to improve.
“We have to improve in the final from the Tipp game. There is no point in saying we will go out and do the same again. That won’t be enough. You have to improve. There are lots of things we have to improve on, but there are lots of positives we can take from the game as well.”
The marker the Tribesmen laid down against Dublin was that their game would be high energy, with everyone a slave to the cause. They intended the Summer to be long, hurling wise.
“We haven’t looked back,” he insisted. “We lost the Leinster final against Kilkenny, but we played well.”
The intensity of Galway’s play in the Tipp game stunned some observers.
“We could easily have lost it,” Jason admitted. “The margins are fine. It is how you react to setbacks that can make the difference. Tipp got a great start. No matter if you are playing at under-14 level or what, you want a good start to give you confidence.
“We kept coming back after suffering knocks. It showed the character of the team when we were able to knock on points after they scored goals.
“Galway have been criticised in the past for not being able to do that. That game was awfully intense. You only got a split second to do what you wanted to do. There was always someone on your case.
“It was a great experience. It was up there with the most intense games I ever played in.”
The feelings afterwards, he admitted, were a mix of joy and relief.
“We knew the margin was fine,” he repeated. “I think it came down to who wanted it the most. The long campaign has helped us. You want to win the Leinster final to get the short route to the final. We didn’t do that, but then playing Cork afterwards, the way we played, picked us up big time.”
Eugene Cloonan, the Galway selector and a hero of Flynn’s, has been a huge influence on the flying corner-forward.
“Eugene is cool out,” Jason said of the former deadly attacker. “He always tells us to trust our game. If you miss nine shots, the 10th one if the most important, he tells us. The confidence he has in us is a big help.”
He remembered Eugene Cloonan as a glittering star of the game. It was great, he assured, to have a man like Cloonan to turn to for advice.
“Any day you get to play against the best, you look forward to it,” he said of the upcoming test. “Kilkenny have set the benchmark. We feel we played well against Tipp, but now we have to improve again, possibly by up to 10%, if we want to win. If you don’t improve for an All-Ireland final you are lost.”