Belfast Telegraph

Flynn keen to keep proving his worth to the Braidmen

Ballymena United 1 Cliftonville 0

By Billy Weir

Ballymena United's win over Cliftonville was celebrated in one household in north Belfast, albeit quietly and probably with the curtains closed, on Saturday.

Born and bred in that part of the city and up against his former team, a clean sheet and three points for Johnny Flynn will have more than made up for having to lie low for a few hours.

By his own admission, the last few seasons have been tough for the silky centre-half.

A teenage sensation in Tommy Wright's reign at Warden Street, Flynn earned a move to the full-time game at Blackburn Rovers before the nomadic life of a young footballer took him to stops at Chester City, Accrington Stanley, Ross County, Falkirk and back home to join the Reds.

Injuries made that dream move something of a nightmare and an in and out season last time around at Ballymena means he is under pressure, and that has turned up a notch with the arrival of Emmet Friars.

Friars came off the bench for the injured Kyle Owens on Saturday and brought a fine save from Brett Long with his first touch but the Reds keeper could do nothing about his second as he showed neat skills to turn home Tony Kane's shot.

With that in mind, Flynn knows that he has to keep turning in displays like Saturday's, where he helped keep a forward line containing new signing Rory Donnelly, younger brother Jay, Joe Gormley and Stephen Garrett to barely a sniff on goal.

"It's a massive season for me. I've been carrying injuries for three years now and that's me just over it," explained the 27-year-old. "In my Cliftonville days I dislocated my kneecap and I came back too early, but I had a good break in the summer.

"I played a lot of Gaelic in the summer and I think that held me in good stead, I'm feeling very strong and I think it's the first year I feel I'm over that injury.

"It has been frustrating because I do set high standards, I know what level I can play at and I know going home in the past two and a half seasons on a Saturday night I knew I wasn't performing to what I can.

"I came back home for family reasons and for the first six months I slotted into the part-time game again and then the injuries came and it has been a long journey back."

Having been part of the team that conceded six in a crazy half against Glenavon, to get a first league win of the season along with the second clean sheet in a week, means a cloud has been lifted.

"We haven't started the season too well and we needed three points, there was a desperation and we got them," he added. "Cliftonville are a good side, very strong attacking and we haven't started the season too well defensively but last week at Windsor, on Tuesday night and on Saturday we've proved that we have a good defence and we don't fear anyone. There has been a lot of work, a lot of soul searching for each and every individual, thinking long and hard that if you don't stand up you don't deserve to be in that team. From then we have stood up and been counted.

"Every night in training I don't see any of us resting on our laurels, each and every one of us is pushing us to the next level and I think the Crusaders game at the start of the season knocked a little bit of the stuffing out of us.

"We started the game well right up to the sending off and in the first half against Glenavon we had a couple of chances and just didn't put them away before 45 minutes of madness.

"I know the lads are better than that 45 minutes and fingers crossed that's us on the road."

As for Cliftonville, there is much head scratching to be done by Barry Gray, a man with a seemingly golden array of striking riches but on Saturday lacking bite, fight and just waiting for something to happen.

"I've said to the players I'll stand by them and we'll keep working at it, we don't have much choice. People outside like to look at selections and formations and all that but it's a collective thing," he explained.

"Me included, we didn't bring enough to beat Ballymena, we gifted them one chance and they took it.

"The firepower everyone keeps talking about hasn't clicked but it will click and we'll make sure it does and when it does it'll be hard to handle but at this moment in time, it's just not.

"When you have Joe Gormley, Rory Donnelly, Jay Donnelly, Stevie Garrett and Daniel Hughes all on the pitch and you only construct two shots… tactics can only take you so far, top class players adapt, but it will come."

Ballymena United: Brennan, Ervin, McCullough, Owens (Friars 74), Flynn, Kane, Thompson, Burns, Shevlin (Faulkner 84), McKinney (Friel 64), McCloskey. Subs not used: Gault, McCaffrey.

Cliftonville: Long, McGovern, Cosgrove, Breen, A. Donnelly, Bagnall, Curran, Garrett, R. Donnelly, J. Donnelly, Gormley (Hughes 69). Subs not used: Ives, Ramsay, M. Donnelly, Winchester.

Referee: Steven Gregg (Ballyclare)

Man of the match: Johnny Flynn (Ballymena United)

Match rating: 5/10.

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