James P (Jimmy) Flynn
(23 June 1894 Brisbane - 1965)
Australia 2 tests (1914 v New Zealand, 1 Captain) 16 tour matches
Queensland 17 matches (11 as captain)
James P (Jimmy) Flynn’s involvement with Rugby in Queensland makes him an important link between the beginning of the game in the state and its re-birth in Queensland after its long hibernation after the First World War. A teenage phenomenon at half back whose precocious abilities saw him become the Wallabies’ youngest ever test captain, Flynn’s playing career was cut short by the beginning of the ‘Great War’ in 1914. After playing League during WW 1he returned to Union with the cessation of hostilities in 1919 for a brief period until Rugby Union collapsed in Queensland and Flynn left both forms of the game as a player. However he returned to Union. Flynn was to play a seminal role in leading the revival of Rugby Union in Queensland in the late nineteen-twenties that sees him remembered as one of the most prominent figures in the history of the game in Queensland.
As a stand our performer for St Joseph’s Gregory Terrace Flynn’s tremendous talent as a half back was evident to the Brisbane Rugby community from an early age. Flynn and his brother Hugh, who also played for Queensland, excelled in inter-school matches and contributed to Terrace’s impressive record in school Rugby in the opening years of the twentieth century. According to the author the Queensland Rugby Union’s Jubilee History, D.B. Ryan, “Flynn owed his meteoric rise to football fame to the sound training in the fundamentals of rugby received at Gregory Terrace.”
Upon leaving school Flynn joined the Christian Brothers Club that had been formed through the efforts of St Joseph’s Reverend Brothers Furlong and Reidy in conjunction with Jack Rourke. Flynn’s talent was immediately obvious. He made his A-Grade debut for Brothers under his brother Hugh’s captaincy in the 1911 Hospital Cup clash with Past Grammars where Flynn scored a try and converted it to help Brothers secure the mid season trophy 22-8 on 1 July. Flynn had only celebrated his seventeenth birthday eight days before the match. The young protégé retained his spot throughout the season and played in the centres in Christian Brothers’ win over the Valley Football Club in the 1911 premiership final.
Flynn’s form continued during 1912. He was selected in the centres for the Christian Brothers first grade team for the season’s opening game against the new Eastern Suburbs Club and he scored two tries and kicked two goals in the 39-0 defeat of the Waratah’s club in the second round of the season. As a result of his stellar play with one of the leading clubs of the Brisbane competition, Flynn was selected for the Brisbane team that beat Toowoomba on 15 June by a score of 22-3. Here he faced off against Bob Meibush, the talented Toowoomba halfback.
Flynn was rewarded for his play against Toowoomba with selection for Queensland team for the match against New South Wales one day before his eighteenth birthday in 1912. The team was coached by legendary former Queensland captain and half back Austin Gralton and was captained by Allen ‘Butcher’ Oxlade who had returned to Brisbane after four years of working in north Queensland. Dressed in its new uniform of maroon jersey and navy blue shorts, the Queenslanders won a “magnificent” match 18-15 in front of 7000 spectators at the Exhibition Grounds. In the return match a week later the Queensland side was again dominant in recording 23-8 win to win both home matches against the Blues for the first time since 1901. Contemporary press reported that the home crowd of over 8000 Rugby fans greeted the victory with “roars and cheers” in recognition of the Queensland team’s performance and the hope of new era of Queensland Rugby. This success did not continue. New South Wales returned the favour when the Queensland team toured to Sydney for the return matches, winning both encounters by scores of 12-3 and 29-4 respectively.
Flynn’s play in his first interstate series was highly regarded, and he was chosen by the all New South Wales selection committee for the tour of North America at the conclusion of the 1912 season with captain Ward Prentice’s Australian representative Waratahs side. This tour was not a resounding success. Test five-eighth Bob Adamson noted that the players “hardly slept” during the tour as they regularly enjoyed the hospitality of their hosts as the players were billeted in University fraternity houses on tour. Flynn was not selected for the one off test against and All-American side at Berkeley, California on 16 November; a match the Australian’s were lucky to win after scoring three tries in the last 20 minutes of the match. The young halfback did however play in 10 of the matches on tour, but suffered the ignominy of being ordered from the field during the clash with Combined Vancouver-Victoria British Columbia side for verbally abusing the match referee.
Returning in the second week of 1913 season with the Brothers club Flynn was chosen to succeed Toowoomba’s Bob Meibusch at halfback for Queensland’s matches against New Zealand Maori and New South Wales. However, he often played in the centres during the 1913 representative season to accentuate his chance of gaining Australian selection. Beginning in 1913 New South Wales’ Fredrick Wood, the vice-captain of the first Wallabies, was the preferred Australian halfback and his combination with fellow New South Welshman, five-eighth William Tasker meant Flynn would have to excel in another position. For this reason Flynn began to play in the centres regularly for his Brothers side in the Brisbane club Rugby competition.
With the move to the centres Flynn had an outstanding 1913 interstate series. Both state teams were ravaged by smallpox vaccinations prior to the opening contest of the season and many first choice players, Flynn included, missed selection for the first match in Brisbane which Queensland won 13-3. He returned for the second game to steer the home side to a 9-3 victory in front of 7000 spectators and gave the Queenslanders a 2-0 lead in the annual interstate series. Pointing to not only his skill but his respect among his peers Flynn was appointed captain of the Queensland touring team for the return matches in Sydney. Initially Queensland could not repeat their home success. The Maroons lost the first match in Sydney 26-6 with Flynn captaining the side from the centres. The captain though achieved folklore status in the fourth match. With Queensland trailing for most of the match Flynn converted Rockhampton’s Bill Larcombe’s try after the siren to win the match and the series. Legend has it that Flynn’s kick hit the goal posts and deflated as it passed over the cross bar meaning Queensland had defeated NSW with a deflated football. In between these four interstate clashes, Flynn was selected in the Queensland team that defeated the visiting New Zealand Maoris 19-9 at the Exhibition Grounds and he also was a part of Brothers 13-0 Hospital Cup win.
As a result of the state team’s series win Flynn was among seven Queenslanders chosen for the Australian tour of New Zealand to conclude the 1913 representative season. The Wallabies were defeated easily in the first two tests of the three match series and the New Zealand Rugby Union were confident enough to send the first XV All Blacks to California for share of the estimated £11,000 gate takings for a test against the All-Americans in November. Despite the defeats in the first two matches, Flynn could not make the national team for the final test and he only managed two of ten matches on the tour. On the Brisbane club scene Flynn’s Christian Brothers club completed an undefeated season with victory against Past Grammars 12-0 to secure their third premiership in a row with Jim’s brother Hugh as captain; however James missed the match as he was on tour in New Zealand.
The opening matches of the 1914 season were played in “auspicious weather conditions” and Flynn began the season in the centres for the Christian Brothers’ 'A' team. The strength of the Christian Brothers, they had won their third premiership in a row in an undefeated 1913 season, meant the club chose to enter two sides in the Brisbane A-Grade competition. Again Flynn was named captain of the state side for the interstate series against New South Wales for 1914, despite not turning twenty until after the fourth and final match. The series ended 2-2. Flynn’s play from the centres and his leadership of the Queensland side saw him gain his first Wallabies cap in the first test against the visiting All Blacks on 18 July 1914 in front of 10,000 spectators at the Sydney Sports Ground. Australia was defeated 5-0. Flynn then captained the Queenslanders in two matches against the New Zealanders in which the visitors were victorious both times. At the close of the second Queensland game against the visitors, the All Blacks’ manager Mr Isaacs described Flynn as being “as good a back as there is in Australia.”
In keeping with contemporary tradition Flynn, as the home Union’s captain, was chosen as Wallaby’s captain for the second test match of the series at the Brisbane Exhibition Ground. At the tender age of 20 years and 36 days he remains the youngest ever Wallaby captain. A crowd of 12,000 saw the Australian’s wearing Maroon jerseys and coached by Austin Gralton in the first full international in Brisbane seven years. Despite the occasion, the visitors were again victorious 17-0 to take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three match series. Although he was invited to join the Australian team for the third test match, Flynn was unable to accept the invitation and he was to never represent his country in a playing role again.
With the advent of the First World War Rugby was severely affected. Hosts of Union players volunteered for the armed forces and many did not return - Flynn’s older brother Hugh among the fallen. To encourage enlistment, the New South Wales Rugby Union suspended the 1914 club competition and announced that they would not participate in any interstate matches either for the duration. The Queensland Rugby Union continued on during the war, staging official club competitions in 1915, 1917, 1918, and 1919 and staged a tour of Central and North Queensland by a South Queensland representative side. Due to war time exigencies previous by-laws were relaxed and Flynn chose to play Rugby League during the 1918 season. At the close of the 1918 season the Brisbane Rugby League Premiers, Merthyr was invited to play the Sydney Rugby League Champions South Sydney. In a strange ruling Merthyr were permitted to draw on any former student of a Catholic School in Queensland to bolster their premiership winning team. Flynn and his fellow school mate Sam Kreutzer were drafted into the side for the Club Rugby Championship of Australia . The match was won by Souths. The following weekend Flynn kicked a late penalty goal for the Queensland side to ensure a thrilling 19 all draw with South Sydney in front of 13000 spectators; the largest crowd to witness a Rugby match in Queensland.
With the close of the war club Rugby restarted in Brisbane. While Flynn was not listed as playing on a regular basis in the QRU fixtures, he was included in a number of representative fixtures. He was named captain of the Australian side that took on the touring A.I.F team in Brisbane to celebrate their return from the European conflict. Flynn was also named as the Queensland captain for the re-born interstate Rugby series. However, Flynn was not listed as playing first grade rugby with Brothers of with any of the other clubs in the 1919 QRU A-grade competition.
The heavy toll World War 1 took on Rugby Union in Queensland was not evident until the end of 1919. The Christian Brothers, Past Grammars, and University clubs switched to the Queensland Rugby League competition and took with them a host of talented players. Ruby historian Ian Diehm, claims Flynn was among them. However, there are no records of Flynn turning out in first grade for any club in either code of Rugby in the 1920 season or of him playing representative football in either code. The Rugby clubs that did switch to League were enticed as the junior code had played official competition matches throughout the war creating a more balanced club competition, a myriad of representative opportunities, and funds for compensation payments to players injured in matches. Subsequently, the New South Wales Rugby Union was forced to continue the code in the country serving as the Australian side, while Queensland players were forced to continue their careers in Sydney. With the exception of GPS Rugby, the game in Queensland ceased to exist in an official fashion until 1929.
In 1928 a number of pre-war stalwarts met to revive Rugby Union in Queensland. Flynn was instrumental. Although he had been a League convert Flynn had retained his affinity for the amateur code and it was his influence on a host of League players and boys from the Catholic schools that saw the creation of a five club competition in 1929. Flynn was then called upon to act as an Australian selector and he was instrumental in seeing five Queenslanders chosen in the Australian team which defeated the All Blacks in all three of the 1929 test series; the first time a New Zealand team was ‘white washed’ in an international series. Ironically, disputes about money between the Queensland Rugby League and Brisbane Rugby League aided the revival of Union in Queensland and were contributing factors to the return of Past Brothers and University to the senior code. Flynn continued on as a selector for both Queensland and Australian and was instrumental in deciding the make up of the Australian team that was victorious over the touring British Lions in 1930.
Outside of Rugby Flynn was a noted Brisbane businessman. He reached the highpoint of his professional career when he was appointed General Manager of Queensland Breweries. Flynn died in 1964. Rugby Union historian Max Howell reminds readers that aside from the achievement of being the youngest ever Australian Rugby Union captain if it were not for the intervention of the First World War “one wonders what might have been … [for] such a phenomenal talent.”