The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By Chris Dunlavy

IT had just gone 7.15 on Satur­day evening when Michael Flynn left the New­port County tech­ni­cal area, turned to as­sis­tant Wayne Hatswell and sought in­spi­ra­tion.

The news from Hartle­pool was des­per­ate. Two De­vante Rod­ney strikes meant the New­port Ex­iles were seven min­utes away from rel­e­ga­tion to the Na­tional League. Only a late win­ner against Notts County could save the day.

“I was ner­vous, I was wor­ried,” ad­mits Flynn, the 36-year-old novice who took charge with County 11 points from safety and sub­se­quently sparked a barn­storm­ing fight­back.

“For that six-seven min­utes when we were down, we didn’t look like scor­ing. We’d been ter­ri­ble sec­ond half. There was def­i­nitely a point where I thought ‘That’s it’.

“But I never lost fo­cus and my staff – Len­nie Lawrence and Wayne Hatswell – were even more calm than I was.

“It was ac­tu­ally Wayne who said ‘Right, let’s get another body up front’. We looked at our op­tions and de­cided to chuck Mark O’Brien up there.”

And the rest is glo­ri­ous his­tory. With a minute to go, O’Brien, a full-back by trade, coolly chested down a right-wing cross and smashed a text­book vol­ley into the far corner. Cue pan­de­mo­nium, pitch in­va­sions and de­spon­dency on the Cleveland coast.

“It was sur­real,” adds Flynn. “I went up through the Con­fer­ence play-offs with New­port, had two au­to­matic pro­mo­tions with Wi­gan.

“But all the drama, all the sus­pense and this be­ing my home­town club… this has to be up there with any of it. And it was made all the more spe­cial be­cause my wife and two of my kids were there.”


No­body gave Flynn a prayer when he re­placed Gra­ham West­ley in March.

Any dis­cus­sion of the League Two rel­e­ga­tion bat­tle cen­tred not on whether New­port could sur­vive but who would join them in Non-League.

Yet the for­mer Brad­ford and Black­pool mid­fielder won seven of his 12 matches, two more than the Ex­iles had man­aged all sea­son, to com­plete one of the great es­capes.

“I al­ways knew it was a long shot,” says Flynn, who be­gan his play­ing ca­reer with New­port in 1999 and had two fur­ther spells as a player.

“I’m not stupid. But I al­ways be­lieved it was pos­si­ble. One of the first things I said was: ‘There’s al­ways one team that comes good and there’s al­ways one team that im­plodes’.

“Af­ter that, it was about putting a smile on the play­ers’ faces. We went back to ba­sics, got them be­liev­ing in them­selves. It was about team spirit and feel­ing in­volved. That was des­per­ately needed.

“The boys who were in­jured were com­ing in on team meet­ings. Any­thing we dis­cussed we did as a whole squad. In any suc­cess­ful team I’ve been in­volved in, the peo­ple who weren’t in the start­ing XI al­ways sup­ported the lads who were play­ing.

“I’ve hon­estly never seen any­one do well when there’s back­bit­ing and in­ter­nal strife. You hear of it all over the place.

“I’ve got noth­ing but praise for what they’ve given me. Hartle­pool were ac­tu­ally 13 points ahead at one point, so it was a 15point swing in the end. That tells you the scale of what they’ve achieved.”

Flynn has been re­warded for his hero­ics with a per­ma­nent con­tract – and promised sup­port­ers no re­peat of this sea­son’s fi­nal-day drama.

“That was some­thing I’ll be proud of un­til the end of my days,” he adds. “But I’m not one to start ad­mir­ing my­self in the mir­ror. I want to im­prove so that this club is never in that po­si­tion again.

“I only had one drink­ing day to cel­e­brate and it was straight back to work!”

PICTURE: ProS­ports

STAY­ING UP: Michael Flynn is all smiles af­ter the pres­sure of New­port’s sur­vival fight

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