Flanagan a chip off the old black
Seamus Flanagan didn't lick it off the ground.
Ask anyone about his father and, as far as hurling goes anyway, they'll tell you the same things about Johnny as they'd have told you about Seamus. A hardy operator they'll say. Teak tough. Well able to hurl.
Johnny is a farmer, cows, sheep, cattle, you name it and if you're fond of a stereotype then you'll understand what they mean when they say he hurled like a farmer. Honest. Hard-working. Teak tough. When Seamus was growing up, Johnny was the man he looked up to but that doesn't mean he didn't do his own thing. Far from it, in fact, because anyone who knows Seamus Flanagan will tell you that he always has.
Martin Downes knows the Flanagans well. Knows their youngest son well enough to say that, if things had gone differently - better - at the famed soccer tournament for under-14s known as the Kennedy Cup - that Seamus would be playing soccer now, not hurling. Soccer's loss, was Limerick's gain.
Downes is the manager of the club team in Feohanagh/Castlemahon but after a few minutes chatting you can see that, along with Johnny Flanagan, this is the type of hurling man who'd be in coaching in the schools. Coaching kids at the pitch. Coaching Limerick teams out the road. Always hurling. Flat out hurling. When the Kennedy Cup didn't go as planned, it wasn't long before Seamus was in with the Limerick under-14s, being coached by Downes. Knowing what we know now, you could call this the beginning - both for Limerick and for Flanagan. The underage hurling academies were in their early years in the county and while they mightn't have known it then, they definitely know now that this was the start of something special.
"We nearly lost him to soccer," says Downes as he pulls in at the side of the road to take a breather from the day job.
"He was very determined from a young age to make it playing soccer. Johnny and Anne-Marie used tell me 'he's mad into the soccer Martin, mad into soccer.' But we eventually got him going anyway. He kind of drifted more towards the hurling ever since the Kennedy Cup. Thank God."
Farming. Jim is one of the busiest men in the parish so Anne-Marie brought Seamus everywhere. There was never any fear of him staying at home anyway because that would probably have meant a job on the farm.
"If he had to I'd imagine he would," Downes says diplomatically. "But ah, let's just say he's not the type of guy who'd be taking to the four grain fork if the choice was his," he adds with a laugh.
Flanagan is a radiographer, having studied for four years in UCD, who now works in Limerick city. On the side, he runs his own fashion line, the not hectic project, selling hats, shirts and other bits of gear, the type of gear that wouldn't get a run-out on the farm. He doesn't spend too much time on the silage fields but on the hurling field, Seamus has always been his father's son.
"Even when he was only under-14 in 2011, Seamus already looked like a prospect. I remember seeing him in national school games when he was just zipping around the place. From a young age, he was very physically strong as well and he was always an athlete. Just like his father. He'd put a lot of work in by himself to make himself better, even back then, when other guys might be doing something else, Seamus would be training. Always training."
"I couldn't speak highly enough of them," Downes says of Johnny and Anne-Marie.
"They've always encouraged their kids to follow their dreams and do what they wanted to do. The four of them are involved with the club here. Sean is two years older than Seamus and he's an unbelievable hurler and footballer as well. He's living down in Cork but he's so dedicated to the club that he never misses a training session - an hour and a half up and down the road three times a week - he's always there.
"The two girls play camogie and ladies football as well and they're all so dedicated to their sport. Seamus is constantly onto me 'how's training going, how are the boys going?' I mean he's a really great ambassador for this club and we're all very proud of him in Feohanagh/Castlemahon."
In many ways, as he leads the Limerick forward line, as he horses into opposition defenders and as he heads to Croke Park this Sunday, in hot pursuit of a third All-Ireland medal, Seamus is picking up from where his father left off.
"Late 70s, early 80s, Johnny was a very, very tough man, a tough hurler. He hurled for Limerick for years. A gentleman and an unbelievable club-man, along with the late Tommy Quaid. They kept the show going for us and I mean, Johnny would have had a huge influence on Seamus. Johnny is so enthusiastic about hurling it's unbelievable.
"He'd be in training the kids in the schools back a good few years ago and he was just so brilliant with them. We got him into the dressing room before a club final a few years ago there and he just lifted the place completely. You'd just go out and perform after it. But as well as that, the way they run, the way they hold the hurley - all of the Flanagans - that was all taught by Johnny, and taught absolutely perfectly."
"There's nothing will phase this man. The confidence is there. The bigger the challenge, the more he loves it like. He's leading the line there at full forward now and that just suits him to the ground. Like, he'll come back to us and even though he's just 24, he will drive it on. He'll lift everyone around him because that's just his way.
"The hats have taken off for him and his clothes. He's put a lot into that too and he's just full of confidence in himself, it's not cockiness, he's just a strong character who knows his own mind, who knows what he wants to do and where he wants to go. As we've seen in the last few years, achieving what he's achieved, he's going places, he's going all the way."