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17th Aug 2019

Jerry Flannery on receiving an elbow to the face from Jens Lehmann

Patrick McCarry

Arsene Wenger was the untouchable man, but everyone else seemed fair game

Not long after he hung up his playing boots, former Munster and Ireland hooker Jerry Flannery was given a strength and conditioning coach role at Arsenal Football Club.

Persistent calf injuries forced Flannery to retire from rugby at the age of 33. He completed a Masters of Science at the University of Limerick in Sports Performance and Coaching and was delighted to join up with the Gunners to put his learnings to practical use.

This week saw Flannery make his debut appearance on House of Rugby. He joined host Alex Payne and Rob Vickerman in London to discuss World Cup warm-ups, Munster’s ‘King of the Ring’ team bonding and his time with Arsenal.

As strength and conditioning coach, he was responsible for working closely with a lot of the younger players at Arsenal, such as Hector Bellerin and Alex Iwobi, who recently joined Everton for £35 million. Flannery noted how top football prospects were often put on big-money contracts before they ever had their mettle tested.

“They get paid before they achieve anything. In rugby, you’ll not give a guy a big contract based on potential. He’ll have to perform for the senior team in order to get that money. In Arsenal they’ll say, ‘Oh, if we don’t sign this 16-year-old kid up on a five-year deal, someone else will’.”

One of the most memorable, and surreal, experiences was the regular football games that involved all the coaching and support staff at Arsenal.

“The staff there love football, man,” Flannery began. “Absolutely love it.”

“They organised a couple of games and asked if I wanted to go out and play. Then you realise nobody is allowed touch Arsene Wenger. He gets the ball and you’re thinking, ‘How is he afforded so much time on the ball?’, and it’s because everyone is afraid and no-one wants to tackle him.

“But I tell ya, I was just chasing shadows. I looked like such a fat idiot, running around. This was on a different level to me. Steve Bould told me, ‘Stop chasing. Just hold your position’.

“Then Jens Lehmann and myself got into it a little. He caught me with an elbow and split me. Yeah, he’s tough.

“It wasn’t like he just elbowed me deliberately. He probably just saw the Irish guys running around, trying to hack people a little bit, and he probably thought, ‘I’m going to give these Irish guys a bit of a taste’.”

“It was amazing,” he said. “I got my eyes open to football.”

Eyes, and eyebrows, opened.