IPSWICH regional sport has lost one of Ipswich and Queensland's finest rugby league players Denis Flannery.
Flannery died in his Raceview nursing home on Sunday, surrounded by family.
He was 83.
"He was my childhood sweetheart," Flannery's wife of almost 60 years, Norma, said yesterday through her tears.
Flannery attended St Mary's primary and high schools, before the latter became St Edmund's College, and spent a year at Nudgee College.
Flannery, renowned for his size, pace, athleticism and footwork, played club rugby league for Brothers in Ipswich and made his debut for Queensland on the right wing in 1948.
"He was a right winger because he stepped off his right foot," Norma said.
In 1950, he earned the first of his 15 Australian Kangaroo Test caps against the touring Great Britain side at the Brisbane Cricket Ground (The Gabba).
On the 1952-53 Kangaroo tour of the UK, Flannery scored 23 tries in 14 matches - a record not broken until the 1990s.
Flannery played in the inaugural Rugby League World Cup in France in 1954 and achieved the then rare feat of a second Kangaroo tour to the UK in 1956-57, in the days when the trip was made by ship.
Funnily enough, he shared the distinction with his father-in-law Dan Dempsey.
When the Queensland team of the century was named in 2008, Flannery was chosen on one wing, alongside the likes of Darren Lockyer, Wally Lewis, Mal Meninga, Arthur Beetson and fellow Ipswich products Allan Langer and Noel Kelly.
Kelly, acclaimed as Australia's greatest hooker, was saddened when informed of the passing of 'Flaggy'.
"He was a great player and a great man," Kelly said.
"He had a good life. He certainly crammed plenty into his 83 years.
"He was a great bloke and a great sportsman."
Ipswich rugby league hardman Noel Kelly remembered watching Flannery play for Brothers, when Kelly was still a junior, and being stunned by his athleticism.
"His father-in-law was my first coach when I spent a year at Brothers,'' Kelly said.
"I was only young.
"Denis was a big lad and I once saw him hurdle his opposite winger.
"I thought to myself: 'How do you do that'?"
It was the likes of Flannery and Dempsey who inspired the following generation of great Ipswich players, such as Kelly.
"He was a great contributor to rugby league in Ipswich and sport in general," Kelly said.
"He had a good life in the pub."
The pub is the Ulster Hotel in Brisbane Street, which Flannery took over from Dempsey and which remains owned by the family.
It was damaged in last year's floods in its centenary year, but Norma expects it to be open again by April. "He was always there to talk to people," Kelly said.
Norma might dispute that, maintaining Denis would often send her out to do the talking when certain people were looking for him. Not because he was shy or sick of it, but because he didn't want people to realise he only had sight in one eye.
"He'd send me out," Norma said. "He didn't want them to know he was blind."
It was an affliction he had since early childhood so he didn't know any different.
It certainly didn't hinder his ability to play rugby league.
"You'd put him down as a bit of a larrikin and a bloody good bloke,'' Kelly said.
Denis Flannery's funeral is at 11am on Friday at St Mary's Church.
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