- 76Wallaby Number
Like his backrow partner, Jack Fihelly, Peter Flanagan hailed from Ireland, having been born in 1884 in Dublin. After arriving in Brisbane, he attended St. Joseph’s College, Gregory Terrace, where boys noticed his strong Irish accent. He had a soccer background but played his first senior football in 1903 with the North Brisbane Club, but played in red and black striped jerseys. At the time, Norths had the services of such brilliant players as Lonnie Spragg (until injured), Jack Hindmarsh, George Watson, Mickey Dore, ‘Edgie’ Dore, ‘Butcher’ Oxlade and the one- handed fullback, Bertie St. John. This powerful club won the premiership that year. Standing 180cms and weighing around 80kgs, the red-haired Flanagan was an outstanding dribbler of the ball and a speedy flanker who represented Queensland in 16 matches between 1905 and 1908 in which he scored one try.
He also played in the second Test match against the 1907 All Blacks and toured England and Wales with the 1908-09 Wallabies. Flanagan began his representative career in 1904 when he was selected for Metropolis against Country as a number 8. A few weeks later, he made his first international appearance for a strong Brisbane side against Bedell-Sivright’s British team. Doug McLean, Phil Carmichael and Fred Nicholson were in the three-quarters in that team, while the front row consisted of Joe Dixon, ‘Butcher’ Oxlade and Voy Oxenham. These seven players were to gain their Test caps against the British team in the second and third Tests.
Normally a flanker, Flanagan packed in the second row with Win Knight, and the backrow consisted of the international brothers, Tom and 'Ginger' Colton, with Arthur Scott at number 8. This Brisbane side did rather better than the State team did against the tourists and most of them were chosen for Queensland in the return match with the tourists, although Flanagan did not win a place. However, his name was still before the selectors and he appeared on the side of the scrum for the Queensland second XV against New South Wales when they came north to Brisbane later in the season.
In 1905 Flanagan made his debut for Queensland as a member of the very fine loose forward trio with Jack Fihelly and Ben Lucas. Flanagan went on to play as a flanker in every interstate match from 1905 to 1908. The Brothers’ rugby union club was founded in 1905 and struggled in its first year. However, the club began a big recruiting drive and attracted a number of State and international players the following year. In 1906, Flanagan left North Brisbane to join Brothers, along with Phil Carmichael from South Brisbane, Jack Fihelly and Tom Colton. Flanagan continued with Brothers until he retired after the Wallaby tour in 1909. When the All Blacks toured in 1907, Flanagan played strongly for Queensland in both matches against the tourists and was rewarded with selection in the second Test match- one of six Queensland forwards. The others were Willie Canniffe, Voy Oxenham, ‘Butcher’ Oxlade, Jack Fihelly and Bill Richards. This selection came about through ‘Poley’ Evans using his casting vote on the selection committee. For the third Test in Sydney, Jimmy McMahon used his casting vote to select the team entirely from New South Wales players and, naturally, Flanagan missed out.
However, in the interstate series in 1908, Flanagan was a member of one of the most formidable packs fielded by Queensland, and he formed a formidable backrow with the brilliant Tom Richards and ‘Brickey’ Farmer, while Willie Canniffe and rough, tough Jack Egan from Charters Towers made up the second row. Len Brown (future England captain) and Voy Oxenham were the props with hooker, Harry Brighton. Impressed by their performances, the New South Wales selectors named Flanagan, Canniffe and Richards in the team to tour England and Wales that later became known as The Wallabies. Canniffe did withdraw subsequently. The team travelled first class on the R.M.S.Omrah and arrived in England to play their early matches in the south.
Flanagan was not considered for the first three matches and, eager to have some closer contact with the game, undertook the linesman’s duties in the third match against Cornwall. Unfortunately, with the score at 18-0 in favour of the Wallabies, ‘Boxer’ Russell made a long run down the wing but was bundled into touch as he passed infield. Tragically, for Flanagan, Russell collided with him and Flanagan suffered a fractured left leg. This is how the Wallaby captain, Paddy Moran, recalled the event: “Flanagan was a red-haired Queenslander, a very good boxer (formerly State champion) with a mild lovable character. The little accident had its picturesque side.
The idle players stood in groups on the Redruth ground while the injured man was placed on a stretcher. Peter Flanagan was a fervent Catholic, and he could be heard mumbling his prayers, while Russell, also of the same faith, followed behind the bearers weeping a little. It was rather like a funeral procession. The amazed Cornishmen wondered what all the fuss was about.” The tour was over for Flanagan before he had played a game! He joined Peter Burge in hospital in Plymouth and, while they were convalescing there, they received a surprise visit from the famous Australian soprano, Nellie Melba, who deigned to sign Flanagan’s autograph album. Towards the end of the British leg of the tour, Flanagan went to Ireland to visit his relatives. On returning to Australia, Flanagan retired from active play but continued his interest in the game.
In 1910, he managed the Queensland team to Sydney, dressed smartly in a three-piece suit and derby hat. He also did some coaching. After the War, Flanagan moved to San Francisco and coached rugby. He died in the United States in 1952. Peter Flanagan will always be remembered for touring with the first Wallabies and not playing a game after breaking his leg while line umpiring. However, he was a very fine loose forward who gave Queensland great service from 1904 to 1908.