The big interview: John O'Flynn on his glory days with Cork City and beyond

Despite only starting organised soccer at 13, the Cobh native went on to become of the Rebel Army's greatest strikers
The big interview: John O'Flynn on his glory days with Cork City and beyond

John O'Flynn, Cork City, heads the ball past Derry City goalkeeper David Forde in the league-winning game at Turner's Cross in 2005. Picture: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

ONE of Cork City’s all-time greatest strikers John O’Flynn enjoyed a remarkable career in professional football which lasted over 17 years.

The Cobh native who enjoyed spells in Ireland and England, highlighted the 2005 title-winning season with City and representing the Republic of Ireland at U21 level as the two standout moments in his career.

“Looking back on my career, my best highlights have come at Turner’s Cross,” O’Flynn said.

“Winning the league in 2005. Playing for the Ireland U21 side against Germany in 2003 there, where Liam Miller and I both scored. I suppose if Carlsberg did matches, that would have been the one for me.

“I played for Springfield at schoolboy level. We weren’t the greatest team back then. I was called up for the Kennedy Cup team, and from there, to get international recognition was fantastic.

“I played U14s, 15s, and 16s for Ireland and had a gap until the U21s. Back then, with the U21s, we would have been training with and playing games against the senior side.

“It was great to mix in with those lads, and the highlight being to play at Turner’s Cross when I was a Cork City player at the time. To score and set another goal up was fantastic.

Ireland U21 ace John O'Flynn hits the net against Germany. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Ireland U21 ace John O'Flynn hits the net against Germany. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

I got into football late, in terms of taking it seriously. I think I was playing Street Leagues, and one of the Springfield coaches came up and said, do I want to join in. I was 13, so I would have started really then.

“All the other sports went by the wayside. I stopped playing hurling and football. I also did karate when I was younger. That was probably a good base for me going into soccer as well. But, once I got into full-time and was with a team, there was only ever one sport really.”

The former Exeter City player became a professional football at the age of 16, signing for Peterborough United, but he believes that spending time on trial at clubs the year previous had made him aware of what was required to be a professional footballer.

“When I signed for Peterborough, I was 16. The year before it, was my Junior Cert year, and throughout it, I probably would have been over to Derby (County) for three months, Leeds (United) for a month, I went to Queens Park Rangers and there were more.

“So, I nearly had a year of full-time football where I was training with lads every single day, the first and reserve teams, so I got a good base before I actually went and signed YTS (Youth Training Scheme).

“I suppose, I bought into full-time football early on. I was never out late drinking with the lads. I was just always home watching Match of the Day, preparing for the game the following day.

“Attitude wise; I bought into it early. So, it wasn’t a big step up going full-time. Obviously, the training I had to adjust, with working my muscles every single day and that kind of stuff.

“The enjoyment factor was there for me because I just love football.“

O’Flynn returned to Cork in 2002, from his first spell in England to sign for City, but it wasn’t his original plan to sign for the Rebel Army when he came home that summer.

“It was a transition period. The saving grace, was that, there was summer soccer in Ireland.

I came home, found somewhere to train, which was Cork City, and fell into that the season was starting. I played a match down in Passage and it just went from there really.

“My initial intention when I came back wasn’t that I would be signing for City. I had a couple of options in England and Shelbourne had also contacted me. I told them that I wanted to stay in England.

“I didn’t know much about the league at the time, I wasn’t even aware that they were champions.

“Signing for City just kind of fell into place. I played against Passage. I didn’t know the club were looking to sign me.

“City played against Longford the week after. Me and my dad went to watch that game. They lost, it was 3-0 to Longford and I was thinking, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do here’.

“The following week, it was a game against the champions Shelbourne. We won 3-0. I scored two and Georgie scored one.”

The rest is history then as they would say.

TOP GUNS

We asked him to narrow down the list of the best he competed with, which is no easy task given the clubs he had over his career. 

“Dan Murray would have been in my youth team. He went pro early on with Peterborough. They had big aspirations for him there. He signed a five-year contract nearly the year I went over. 

"So, getting Dan over to City, he became the leader of the team and was our captain. He’s probably more Cork than some of the Cork lads at this stage.

Cork City players John O'Flynn, George O'Callaghan and Dan Murray with the title in 2005. Picture: Provision
Cork City players John O'Flynn, George O'Callaghan and Dan Murray with the title in 2005. Picture: Provision

“I played with some great players. At Barnet, I played with Yannick Bolasie and Albert Adomah, both of whom went on to play in the Premier League. Paul Furlong had a great playing career. He’s probably known for his Chelsea playing days. He was 42, when I played alongside him at Barnet. He was still in great condition. He just looked after himself really well. 

"Gareth Farrelly was another player I learned a lot off. You could see in games and in training with City, that he had played at the highest level. The lads who have played at a very high level, I could see that they had something different to them."

O'Flynn forged a memorable partnership with George O'Callaghan at Turner's Cross. 

Georgie, for me, was exceptional. At the peak of my career, he was the most unselfish player I’ve played with. Me and him, just kind of, knocked heads off each other all the time. 

"It was nothing that we had worked on in training but it just happened organically on the pitch. I’ve played with too many players over the years to list, but I’ve definitely played with some great players and some big characters.” 

Cork City's George O'Callaghan and his message for the injured John O'Flynn after defeating Shamrock Rovers in 2003. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cork City's George O'Callaghan and his message for the injured John O'Flynn after defeating Shamrock Rovers in 2003. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The recently turned 39-year-old spent time managing Wexford side Bunclody but doesn’t see himself managing again in the future. O’Flynn believes that coaching is more suited to him. His passion for football is still evident and although, he wouldn’t be able to commit to getting involved in coaching with a League of Ireland club now, it’s not something he has ruled out happening in the future.

I probably have more of a drive to be a coach than a manager. 

"I’ve managed a team. I had an assistant. However, I was commuting up and down to Wexford. It’s a different story being a manager, having all the different jobs, then being a coach and coaching the lads. 

"The job specifications are slightly different between being a coach and a manager. I’m running camps, summer camps, in Avondale at the moment from Monday to Friday. I’m still involved in soccer and it’s my passion still.

“I’m not sure would I try and get involved in coaching in the League of Ireland. At the minute, with my work, it’s too busy. Summer camps are one thing, I’m there for two hours and I’m finished. There’s not much to think about afterwards. 

"But in terms of getting involved in a team or playing myself now, at the minute, that time is taken up by other aspects. I don’t know what the next two, three or five years is going to hold but I’d like to be involved in football still if that is possible."

ALL BUSINESS 

Since retiring in 2018, O’Flynn has focused most of his attention on his business company, Summa Sportwear, and is keen to continue to grow the business in the future.

“I have my own sportswear business. It’s just me and two lads from Wexford running it. Towards the end of my career, maybe the last year at Limerick and then Finn Harps, I started to plan for life after football and we started the business back then. 

"So, it’s just over three years in existence now. That was taking up more and more of my time and I kind of organically faded away from football. 

"I tried to play as much as I could for Cobh Wanderers, obviously Covid effected that over the last year or so, but the business side of my life is definitely after taking over. It’s full-on but I really enjoy it. 

"Going back to sport and soccer, and the soccer side of it. I’m still involved in sport in a capacity because I’m kitting teams out in Summa gear and I’m able to watch games. It’s kept me in the football side or the sporting side of things.”

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