Mark Flanagan on Scoops, Salford Red Devils and getting serious on the Super-8’s.
As the curtain closes on another fantastic Super League Season, both the Super 8’s and Qualifiers had their fair share of drama. None more-so than the amazing escape act that the Salford Red Devils managed to perform against Hull KR in the Million Pound Game.
Forget O’Brien’s half-way line drop goal and Josh Griffin’s back of the hand pass to set up the try for Evalds. I caught up with Mark Flanagan – who’s off-field exploits include owning his own coffee shop in Manchester – but who’s on-field exploits played a massive part in Salford’s survival this year.
We talk together about his early days, Dr Koukash and what he’s really like, Tim Sheens and his influence on the Red Devils in the season just gone plus what he thinks about the Super 8 format and in particular the Million Pound game and what it was like to play in.
Thanks to Flanagan’s ‘Million Pound Pass’ right on the full time hooter, Greg Johnson managed to touch down in the corner and Salford drew level with the last play of normal time. “It was flat!” Said Flanagan, supressing any suggestions of mine that his twenty-yard ‘lateral’ pass was in fact forward.
After his exploits in the MPG, he and some of the others took a well-deserved trip abroad. He took off to Ibiza with 8 other team-mates and (by the sound of him) thoroughly enjoyed themselves. But now he’s back to some sort of reality “Yeah, it was good. I’ve only just recovered. I’m eating healthy food again and I’ve even had a green tea!”
Flanagan started his career in his birth-town Oldham, “I was at Saddleworth Rangers from a toddler, then went to Bradford when I was 16”. It seems that League is in his blood as his Uncles and even his own Dad played for the town too.
I then moved him (interview-wise!) on to Salford, and their never-a-dull-minute owner Dr Koukash, was he really a villain as so often portrayed in the media?
“He’s passionate, he loves the lads and takes us to the races. I don’t think he’s been as involved in the last 12 months as Tim (Sheens) has had a lot of involvement along with Watto so he’s not as actively involved day to day” Well never mind – No scoop there then!
It’s clear that Salford’s ex-Director of Rugby Tim Sheens was a big influence in a lot of areas around the club and appears to have been a steadying force on the team and beyond, so what were Flanagan’s thoughts on him?
“He will be missed. He was a good fella, straight as a die. He coached me at the tigers. I had a good relationship with him.”
He loves coaching, so the attraction of coaching again was the big pull for him to go to KR.”
“He’s very good, with all the experience he’s got. He was very calm when we were in choppy waters at times this season and he stabilized the ship a fair bit and he was good to have around. All the lads really looked up to him so he will be missed.”
We then moved onto the Million Pound game and what his feelings were on the whole occasion. It was clear quite quickly there was no particular celebration on the day:
“There was no elation from me to be honest. I felt a bit numb. It was a sense of relief, sense of shock and I was gutted for the KR lads. I know a few of them and I know them to be really good fellas”
The RFL’s laws and the recently introduced Super 8 format divides opinion. Some say it brings an excellent and dramatic end to the season with the Million Pound game capping off the year with the ultimate in relegation battles.
Others think it’s a terrible way of deciding who stays up or down while there are Super league teams involved. In this year’s instance, there were no winners on that day, only those who maintained their Super League status and those who lost it. The worst thing of all is that all player’s contracts are wiped. It’s clear what side Flanagan is on.
By the law of the game they deserved to be relegated, or one of us deserved to be relegated that Saturday, but I don’t think they deserved to have their careers and their jobs in jeopardy. I don’t agree with that in the slightest”
“If you lose, you have to re-negotiate [contracts]. There’s no reason for the club to offer you anywhere near the amount of money you’re on. When you’ve a mortgage to pay and you’ve signed a contract where you plan for the foreseeable future with that contract, it’s not great really and a lot of those players are too good to play in the Championship.
“When you’re passionate and professional about what you do, you want to play at the best standard, a lot of those lads will be too good. There’s some lads there that are really good players, that should be playing at super league level. That’s a bit of a kick in the teeth as well.
“There were some really upset lads and seeing their families on the side-lines upset as well wasn’t nice really. It kind of hit home what had happened really. Because we were so close to being in that situation ourselves, it was quite sobering to be honest.”
Hull KR and most of their players will survive, but playing at Championship level. It seems that from a player’s perspective at least, this format needs to be re-thought. However, his and all other players’ love of the game keep them motivated to come back season on season and put their bodies on the line. So what does 2017 hold for Flanagan and Salford?
“It excites me what could happen next season.” He said. His voice seeming to return to a happier tone after what could have happened to him and his colleagues at the MPG.
“Having a brand new team pretty much and last year do so well in the regular season, despite the adversity. We would have been in the playoffs, which is testament to the squad we’ve got.
“We need some signings because we’ve lost a couple, Josh Griffin and Tommy Lee, we need a bit more depth. Everyone’s going to be a year more experienced and having played in certainly one of the biggest games I’ve played in, I think that’ll stand us in good stead and hopefully make us a bit more resilient, come 2017”
He also talked up the team’s chances for top 8, but emphasised the need for more players in the pack:
“We should have been there this year and there’s no reason why we can’t do it again and I’m confident we can do that. Maybe 2 more players, a bit more squad depth as we were lucky with injuries this year.
“We weren’t too bad, myself George (Griffin) and ‘Koppy’ (Craig Kopczak), we missed only a handful of games between us. About 3 or 4 games. I’d be surprised if that happens again this year. I don’t think we can rely on that again.”
Finally, I tried to squeeze some rumours out of him about Salford’s signings and who he had heard was coming into the club during the off-season.
“I’ve heard Johnathan Thurston, might be available, but apart from that….”
At last a scoop!…. What do you mean rubbish?