The man at the back

GAA: All Ireland U21 Football Semi Final

Keeping the faith: Matthew Flanagan is looking forward to being Mayo's last line of defence. Photo: Sportsfile.

Keeping the faith: Matthew Flanagan is looking forward to being Mayo's last line of defence. Photo: Sportsfile.

Goalkeepers are a different breed from the normal, the ones whose mistakes are remembered far more than saves they made, so they have to have a special bit of confidence in themselves, and Mayo's U21 goalkeeper Matthew Flanagan is no different. The Balla man has the strange history of playing for the county's u21 side in championship action before he did the same for the minor side back in 2014 and his have it a go attitude shines through when talking about that occurance. "It was strange, it just happened quickly, I was training with the minors and I got a call two weeks before the championship, they had a few injuries and asked would I come into the group and I said 'sure look, why not' and we hadn't the best day, but it was great to come in and get the game, sure I was only 17 at the time I think."

At the start of the Connacht final, Flanagan was bending his back and picking the ball out of the net before some of the crowd had even settled in their seats, but he was still confident that things would turn around for his side. "Look it's happened before and it'll probably happen again at some stage, but I knew it was early, it's not the worst thing to concede early and I knew well the group we have that they wouldn't drop their heads, I didn't drop my head and everyone else didn't, they just kept working. I wouldn't worry about it at this stage."

That belief paid off when Michael Plunkett disregarded his goalkeeper's instructions and wandered off down the field to kick the winning point, something that Flanagan jokes about now. "He was the sweeper and I was roaring at him the whole game 'don't go, don't go' and he went and I was roaring at him but it worked out well in the end, he came back and had a little laugh at me and said 'I'm not listening to you anymore' but look it worked out."

Flanagan played a lot of his football outfield at underage and still does a bit for his club, and the way the role of the goalkeeper has changed in GAA has helped his development in the position he believes. "It has changed, there's a bit more free taking and sweeping, it's the instinct that I have from playing outfield, it helps you to read a ball it's more instinct, it'll come to you on the pitch. Now sometimes you'd be out there and have the ball and catch yourself and go 'Oh' maybe I've gone too far from home with this get rid of it."

And he will not be shy in having to come up and have a crack at goal from distance if needed, even if ace marksman Liam Irwin fancies his chances with it from his wrong side he says, "If it's over on the left now, I'd see Liam Irwin probably going over for it, but I'd be waving him home and say I'm coming, if it's there I might go for it, but on the day, I'll have to wait and see."

Flanagan was the sub keeper on the Mayo minor team that lifted the Tom Markham Cup in 2013 and with a large number of that panel working their way through to this year's U21s there is a great bond in the team that has seen them get over some tough days on and off the field he believes. "There's a great bond, we're a real tight group, great friends, where there's one there's 10 of us, you'll never see one left on their own and we've had players that have come and gone and any player that has come in we've welcomed with open arms and they've fitted in perfectly, we're a good group."

The Balla net minder has now added a U21 medal to go with his collection of medals so far, but it is not medals that he cherishes most from his career so far. "I've only one more to go with the seniors so hopefully over the next few years I can maybe get one [he laughs], Connacht medals are nice, but winning games as a group, I don't think any amount of medals can add up to that." Speaking of the seniors, Flanagan got a chance to play with them earlier this year in the FBD League, and it is an experience he really wants to taste again he said. "It was massive, I loved it. As a player it's where you want to be, it was a great experience in there, I learned so much and felt it brought me on a lot and if it comes up again, I'd take it with open arms and I just have to work towards getting in there again now. Over the years this group from minor to U21 and the managers and coaches we've had, all of them have emphasised that when you're playing for Mayo, you're playing for Mayo, and you have to give everything, you can't do anything half and you have to give it all, it's really stood to us. It made the step up so much easier, it will be different naturally, but you will be ready for it."


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