Of the 1944 days that Matt Flynn has waited for his AFL debut since the 2015 draft, some are particularly vivid in the Greater Western Sydney ruckman’s memory.
Monday was when Flynn learned of his selection for Sunday’s match against St Kilda at Giants Stadium then called his parents, with a tear-jerking video of the conversations quickly going viral on social media.
During the 2019 AFL grand final, Flynn nursed a reconstructed knee and mixed emotions as fellow 2015 draftees and good mates Jacob Hopper and Harry Himmelberg entered the MCG.
Flynn had been on the cusp of debuting earlier in 2019, only to tear an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) while stepping on a teammate’s leg during a reserves game.
The setback appeared innocuous; both Flynn and the club were initially upbeat it was something less serious.
“I remember the night after it happened. A few of us boys went to the pub, we had three too many beers,” Flynn recalled.
“I went back home and was lying down in bed.
“I was pretty pissed.
“But I remember it felt like I was looking down a long, black tunnel. I was like ‘where do I start, how do I get to the end of this?’.
“The first step was surgery. From there I was ticking boxes, ticking boxes … I always had little goals that kept me going and took my mind off my knee.
“I don’t think it has sunk in … it’s surreal.”
Flynn arrived at the club “nowhere near it” as a “weak” academy product from the Riverina town of Narrandera.
The 23-year-old worked hard in the gym during his ACL rehab, adding 8kg as he stacked on muscle before stripping off fat.
Former GWS captain Callan Ward, recovering from his own knee reconstruction at the time, was an ideal sounding board.
Coach Leon Cameron, who admitted to agonising over whether to pick Flynn or Dawson Simpson before the young ruck’s setback, also served as inspiration.
“When Leon told the group that ‘Flynn is a bee’s dick away from playing and did his knee’ … that lit a bit of a fire,” Flynn said.
The COVID-19 pandemic proved the next hurdle, ruining the big man’s hopes of gaining the sort of match fitness that would prove he is ready for AFL.
“My comeback game from injury was against Hawthorn’s twos,” Flynn said.
“We played 15 versus 15 with coaches as umpires … it was like running out for training.
“We had a great group in the twos …. 12-14 players who regularly played those scratch matches.
“We went through undefeated in the COVID Cup, as we called it. We actually had a lot of fun.”
Flynn is determined to make up for lost time and help GWS bounce back after an underwhelming 2020.
“I feel like I’ve had three pre-seasons since I first felt ready,” he said.