‘The Grand Old Football Warrior……’ by KB Hill

 

Pat Flynn’s mind occasionally drifts back to those early childhood holidays at his grandparents’ farm…..

 

…….Being perched beside his old ‘Pa’, who’s negotiating the horse and gig along a dusty, pot-holed road, on the way to collect the groceries and mail at the Wilby store.

 

…….Or wandering around the paddocks, with him – and a couple of dogs for company – as they search for a few rabbits…..

 

Great old fellah, he recalls…Thought the world of his grandkids.

 

But heck, thinks Pat, who’s as nostalgic as they come……Why didn’t I pick his brain and get him to expand on his footy career ?……..

 

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In this Grand Final Week, when Journos delve into the past to flush out romantic tales of premiership heroes of yesteryear, they’ll be struggling to find one to rival that of Pat’s illustrious grandad……..

 

James Edward Flynn was born in 1872, a year after his parents had sailed across the seas from Ireland, in search of a new life.

 

His football journey was eventful, to say the least. He started with Devenish, also stripped with Canterbury, had 5 games with Richmond (VFA) in 1895 and 1 with Collingwood (1896).

 

Jim found his way to Geelong, partly because of his close friendship with Henry ‘Tracker’ Young, a champion of the ‘Pivotians’, who was also an outstanding cyclist, boxer and rower.

 

‘Tracker’s’ fitness was renowned. It was said that, on a match day, he would run 30 kilometres along the beach to the ground, ruck non-stop for four quarters, then run the 30km return trip home.

 

Flynn became part of his rucking brigade once he gained inclusion in the senior side for the third round, in the VFL’s inaugural season of 1897.

 

But he was slow to mature. Despite showing obvious skill, his first five seasons with Geelong yielded 70 uneventful games. After appearing in another two – the opening rounds of 1902 – he faded into obscurity.

 

 

 

His arrival at Carlton was principally due to the recruiting prowess of the entrepreneurial, controversial, Jack Worrall, who had been installed as the Club’s Secretary/Manager in 1903.

 

Worrall appeals as an early-20th century version of Norm Smith-Ron Barassi-Alistair Clarkson rolled into one. He became Aussie Rules’ first true coach. As an integral part of his role, he had stipulated he must be handed full responsibility for all aspects of the team’s performance.

 

Thus, his determination to lift the flagging fortunes of the Blues saw him scouring the country for football talent……..

 

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To digress on the fascinating Worrall, it’s worth retracing his remarkable sporting background. A nuggety rover who captained Fitzroy in its early and pre-VFL days, he was ‘Champion of the Colony’ on three occasions and was regarded as one of the three best footballers in the nation. In summer he turned his hand to cricket.

 

He made 11 Test appearances for Australia and played 65 games for Victoria, as a right-hand opening batsman ‘whose belligerent driving could tear an attack apart.’ In one District match for Carlton, he belted 412 not out.

 

Having been a key figure in forming the Victorian Football League, his appointment at Carlton promised to revitalise the staid old Navy Blues, who had finished no higher than second bottom in the previous five years.

 

As coach, he pulled out his old footy gear and worked as hard as his players, demanding unflinching courage, and imposing stern disciplinary measures. His message to them summed it up: “Boys: Booze and Linament don’t mix.”

 

Despite his recruitment of an exciting mix of young players, he’d been particularly eager to gain the services of the 32 year-old Jim Flynn, feeling he could tap into the veteran’s hidden potential .

 

Decades later, in his role as a journalist with the ‘Australasian’ Worrall discussed the greatest captains who had played the game. He said of Flynn:

“Carlton was finding its feet when Flynn joined the ranks. It was the Club’s salvation. He was the ideal captain. He fitted into the team like a glove, and had the confidence of everybody – players, Committee and supporters alike.”“He did not prove a great captain straight away. Yet when he did come into his own, he was unsurpassed. His judgement was remarkable, he could play anywhere and he helped everybody.”

 

 

“He was a natural centre half-back, a splendid centreman with a 50-yard kick on either foot, was a good runner, a great follower and a dangerous forward, as he could both mark and kick. He was an inspiration to the men under him and had the knack of pulling the side together when required…….”

 

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Carlton jumped from sixth to third in Jim’s first season, their maiden finals appearance. Their steady improvement continued in 1904, when they reached the Grand Final, only to be outpointed by arch rivals, Fitzroy.

 

Jim had made such an impression that he’d been appointed vice-captain to his old Geelong team-mate Joe McShane. Then, when McShane stepped down at the end of the season, Flynn was his popular successor.

 

Although he stood only 179cm, he and Fred ‘Pompey’ Elliott led the ruck division and were supreme. Despite Flynn always yielding height in the ruck, he usually found a way to counter opponents. With a good spring and sure hands, he was said to be able to shark the tap by feigning to jump for the ball and then intercepting.

 

Carlton had by now gathered what coach Worrall regarded as his ‘Dream Team’ and finished minor premiers in 1906, to set up a semi-Final contest against Collingwood. They prevailed by 12 points, with Flynn outstanding in a best-afield performance.

 

They went on to boot 15.4 to Fitzroy’s 6.9 to take out their first ever premiership.

 

 

 

The Blues continued their strong form in 1907 but, after a convincing 29-point win Round 8 win over St.Kilda at the Junction Oval, they were rocked when Flynn announced that he was retiring to take over the running of the Hotel at St.James.

 

He was loudly cheered, however, when he offered his services if the club happened to need him for the Finals.

 

True to his word, he returned to the fray, and performed with distinction. The ‘Argus’ scribe noted of the team that had just earned the right to play off for another pennant: ‘It is a great gain to them to have Flynn leading and playing for them in the finals.’

 

The Grand Final proved an enthralling contest. The Blues emerged with a five-point victory over South Melbourne. George Topping kicked three match-winning goals, Flynn was imperious at centre half-back and George Bruce was a will o’ the wisp on a wing.

 

Flynn was justifiably proud of his team’s efforts, and said after the game: “Yes, we won, but there wasn’t much in it. They kept us going right to the end, didn’t they ? The real secret of our success is our manager, Jack Worrall. He’s a grand judge of a game and the youngsters worship him; they’d do anything for him……..”

 

Carlton’s Annual Meeting paid tribute to their dual premiership skipper: “The Club will suffer a great loss in the retirement from the game, of Mr.J.Flynn. His position will be most difficult to fill. It is not too much to say that his exceptional skill as a leader, combined with his rare ability as a footballer, was a great factor in the success of the side…..”

 

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So the curtain finally appeared to have been drawn on the career of the old warrior. He returned to operating his Hotel and prepared to spend the rest of his playing days with St.James.

 

But Worrall was keen to have him ‘up his sleeve’, and asked if Jim would remain on standby in case an emergency occurred later in the season..

 

Sure enough, that situation arose on the eve of the Finals. Carlton were well-entrenched in top spot – three games clear of Essendon, when Worrall announced that Flynn would be slotted into Carlton’s Round 18 line-up.

 

He showed no signs of rustiness in that game – against University- and starred on a back flank in the Semi-Final win over St.Kilda. His vast experience was a telling asset in the nail-biting Grand Final, in which the Blues triumphed by nine points.

 

 

Again, the old champ was farewelled with much pomp, as he ‘rode off into the sunset’ to his life in the bush. He’d been one of 11 players who had shared in the hat-trick of Carlton flags……..

 

 

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Alas, two years later (1910) the distress signal was again sent out from Princes Park. On the eve of their first Final, three players – Alex (Bongo) Lang, Douglas Fraser and Doug Gillespie, were left out of the side. Accusations swirled that the trio had taken bribes to play ‘dead’ in the loss to bottom side St.Kilda the previous week.

 

So, in a sensational development, Carlton captain-coach ‘Pompey’ Elliott, his old rucking co-hort, prevailed upon Flynn to return in this time of crisis.

 

He was rising 40 years of age, and did his best, but poor kicking cost the Blues dearly. South Melbourne won 10.5 (65) to 6.17 (53) in Jim Flynn’s 77th – and final – game for Carlton………

His parting gesture to the Blues was to take a 20 year-old St.James team-mate, Gordon Green, down to the Club. “This lad will make it,” Jim assured officials.

 

Green proved him correct. He went on to play in Carlton’s 1914 and ‘15 premiership teams, represented Victoria and captained the Club on his return from the Great War.

 

Jim, his wife Ellen and their kids, Edward, Mary, Jim, Alicia, Jack and Anastasia, moved onto a farming property ‘Glenview’, near Wilby. He continued to play locally, then in retirement, took up a favourite spot on the fence at home games, where he would offer encouragement and advice to the Wilby players………

 

 

 

This story first appeared on KB Hill’s website On Reflection. Click HERE to read this and more of KB’s wonderful stories about local sporting identities.

Comments

  1. Marvellous

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