The Flying Doctor & the free-scoring Publican – the famous O’Flanagan brothers

Along Marlborough Street, opposite the Department of Education and a 100 yards or so from the Pro-Cathedral, stands the aptly-named Confession Box pub, a small intimate venue where one could air your concerns over a pint that once belonged to former Bohemians and Ireland centre-forward Mick O’Flanagan.

The pub has its own sporting legacy quite apart from its former proprietor, it was there in 1960 that the Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland was formed, and it was there that Mick O’Flanagan received the phone call that would make him an Irish International.

It was, as O’Flanagan recalled, around two o’clock in the afternoon of 30th September 1946 when a call came to the pub from Tommy Hutchinson, the Bohemians member of the FAI selection committee which chose the Irish International team.

Ireland were due to play England at 5:30 that afternoon, a historic meeting between the two nations as this was a first time the English national side had agreed to play an FAI selected team since the split with the IFA in 1921.

After decades of being ignored and ostracised by the English FA the FAI had finally secured a fixture against a formidable English side in Dalymount Park. In the minds of the FAI committee of 1946 this was the biggest game in its relatively short history. There was only one problem, their centre-forward, West Brom’s Davy Walsh had pulled out through injury.

This was the purpose of Hutchinson’s call to Mick O’Flanagan, the 24 year old Bohemian striker was being asked to line out against the inventors of the beautiful game at the last minute.

As O’Flanagan remembered:

“I went home to Terenure for a bite to eat, had a short rest and then headed off to Dalymount. It was not really sufficient notice as only the previous evening I had brought a party of English journalists to Templeogue tennis club and I hadn’t got home until nearly two in the morning.”

Despite a laughable lack of preparation, the Irish side put it up to their illustrious opponents who had hammered an IFA selection 7-2 just days earlier. It was only a Tom Finney winner eight minutes from time that sealed victory for the English.

Henry Rose in the Daily Express was moved to write:

“If ever a team deserved to win Eire did. They out-played, out-fought, out-tackled, out-starred generally the cream of English talent, reduced the brilliant English team of Saturday to an ordinary looking side that never got on top of the job.”

Not only did Mick O’Flanagan line out against the likes of Finney, Billy Wright, Tommy Lawton and Raich Carter, he did so alongside his older brother, and fellow Bohemian, Kevin (pictured).

Brothers Kevin and Mick O’Flanagan are unique in world sport as not only did they play international football for their country, they both were capped by Ireland at Rugby, making them the only pair of brothers in the world to play for their nation in both codes.

Mick was capped against Scotland in 1948 as part of the last Irish Grand Slam winning side until 2009, while Kevin had been capped a year previous to that against Australia. This unique achievement is one that isn’t likely to be repeated anytime soon.

Despite this singular accomplishment the sporting careers of the brothers could have been even more illustrious had it not been for the outbreak of World War 2. Both were lining out for Bohemians when hostilities commenced in 1939, Mick a 17-year-old just beginning his career, his older brother Kevin at 20 had been a first-teamer for four years, had already captained Bohemians and had seven Irish caps and three goals to his name as well as being selected to play for Northern Ireland.

While the League of Ireland would continue during the war years, international football would cease for Ireland until 1946. Similarly, Olympic competition would cease which would rob Kevin the chance of competing in the Olympiads of 1940 and 1944. Kevin, at the time was a medical student in UCD, was Irish sprint champion at 60 and 100 yards as well as being national long jump champion.

He had even been a promising GAA footballer, lining out for the Dublin minor panel alongside Johnny Carey (Carey and O’Flanagan would both make their international debuts as teenagers against Norway in 1937) before being dropped because of his involvement with the “Garrison game”.

Young Michael would also miss out, his best goal scoring season would be 1940-41 where he finished as the League’s top scorer with 19 goals for Bohs. Had war not been raging across Europe he might rightly have expected to have more than his solitary international cap.

The brothers remained committed to the amateur ethos of the club which explains the duration of their stays at Bohemians. Mick as a publican in the city centre and Kevin as a medical student and later a Doctor weren’t likely to be swayed by the offer of a couple of extra quid a week from a rival club.

Indeed Kevin took his commitment to the Corinthian ideal to the extreme. Upon qualifying as a doctor in 1945 he had been offered a position as a GP in Ruislip, London. Despite this move he kept up and even increased his sporting activities, he signed on with Arsenal as an amateur while also lining out as a Rugby player for London Irish, when Arsenal invited him to submit his expense claims, they were shocked that he asked for just 4p, the cost of his tube journey from Ruislip to Arsenal.

Bernard Joy, a team-mate of Kevin’s at Arsenal, and a fellow amateur, noted in his history of the club that the then secretary Bob Wall quipped that Kevin “did not want to know anything about tactics. I play football the way I feel it should be played’, he would say.”

Arsenal coach Tom Whittaker said that O’Flanagan could have been “one of the greatest players in football history” if only he could have gotten him to train properly. Despite only spending one full season with the Arsenal first team (for whom he scored three times) Kevin would make a big impression.

No lesser an authority than Brian Glanville described him thus:

“A fascinating, amateur, figure in those Arsenal teams between 1945 and 1947 was the powerfully athletic Irish outside right, the hugely popular Dr. Kevin O’Flanagan. Coming from Dublin to London to take up a general medical practice, he demonstrated pace, strength and a fearsome right foot. He attained the distinction of playing soccer for Ireland on a Saturday, rugby for them the following Sunday.”

Between them, the O’Flanagan brothers would spend almost 20 years as players for Bohemians, while their younger brother Charlie O’Flanagan, a winger, would also line out for the club in the 1946-47 season.

Kevin would return to the Dalymount in another role, that of the club’s Chief Medical Officer and despite his retirement as a player he would remain hugely busy as a sporting physician and sports administrator. He was a member of the International Olympic Committee for almost 20 years before being made an Honorary Lifetime member upon his retirement and was the Chief Medical Officer of numerous Irish Olympic teams throughout the 1960’s and 70’s.

Despite missing out as a competitor, “The Flying Doctor” would manage to make a huge contribution to the Olympics and to Irish Sport in general.

Although they spent almost twenty years service in the red and black of Bohs and scored almost two hundred goals  between them the honours list for the two brothers was relatively short. Both brothers combined to help Bohs win the Inter-City Cup in 1945 in somewhat controversial circumstances.

A year later after Kevin left for London, Mick scored an astonishing six goals in Bohs 11-0 victory over local rivals Grangegorman in the Leinster Senior Cup final, a record not likely to be broken any time soon by a Bohemian player in a cup final.

So much about the brothers’ careers is unique or exceptional, so in this our 125th year it’s worth remembering two of the greatest all-round sportsmen that Ireland has ever produced.

Originally posted on the official Bohemian FC website in August 2015

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