Dublin's Stephen Cluxton. Ben Brady/INPHO

Dublin's standard-bearer: No one but Cluxton could have pulled off a return like this

The Dublin number one is back in Dessie Farrell’s squad.

WITH ALL THE WhatsApp messages and Voicenotes doing the rounds last week pertaining to matters Donegal and Armagh, the return of Stephen Cluxton to Dublin colours slipped submarine-like under the surface.

After the last couple of years when various snippets escaped the Dublin bubble, there was no suspicion among the wider populace. There had been some Chinese whispers around the time of James McCarthy’s wedding that Cluxton was sweet on a return, but nothing concrete.

For Seamus McCormack, the long-serving media manager, this was his All-Ireland final to end all. He must be exceptionally pleased today.

What does this say for the journey that Dublin – a town where the lights were kept on by the power of rumour for decades – have been on in terms of enforcing omerta?

It says that they are healthy. Yes, there are very few players outside of Stephen Cluxton, and those around him that have had to get used to his ways, that could have pulled it off. But his bearing must have also scared the bejaysus out of others on the panel that might have let a loose word slip.

A ‘distraction’ was the first high-profile opinion we heard, from Lee Keegan on Sunday night’s Allianz League Sunday programme. As a man just off a county panel, you have to respect that he didn’t get the pom-poms out and cheer it to the rafters.

All the same. It’s a bit like being offered to go to Ibiza with Shaun Ryder and Bez. You know it could end horribly but you aren’t inclined to pass up the opportunity.

At 41 years of age, should Cluxton see county action for Dublin this year, he edges Waterford’s Tony Browne for title of oldest player in GAA Championship modern times. Browne was 40 years old when he appeared as a substitute against Kilkenny in the summer of 2013.

Before that, Christy Ring was 42 when he last sported the blood and bandages for Cork. The lower reaches always throws up the definitive outliers on these fronts though, and few could match Tommy McLoughlin, who played his last match in goal for Leitrim hurlers in the Lory Meagher semi-final in 2012 at the age of 47.

Keegan may feel it is a distraction among the Dublin team. Perhaps. Cluxton is no people pleaser and might add a little tension to the panel. And maybe that’s what Dessie Farrell is after, with Dublin in danger of slipping into a comfort zone.

Since he last appeared in sky blue, Cluxton has been playing his football outfield for Parnells, who have fallen off the radar in the capital as they drop down the divisions.

Soccer with Elm Mount, and a bit of badminton has kept those cheekbones prominent and calves defined.

Apart from the obvious upside of what he brings Dublin while they have Evan Comerford out for the year – he brings standards.

Look at the others chasing Sam Maguire and how they managed a gradual process of transition, rather than too many retirements at once. There’s no secret that Tyrone are only ‘recovering’ now from the 2021 All-Ireland and the final satisfaction and subsequent retirements that brought.

Despite going his career without saying anything that would reveal something of himself, the deepest insight we got into his mind and processes came through John Leonard, the former Dublin sub goalkeeper, Cluxton’s understudy with whom he formed an unlikely alliance.

Leonard later went on to write his autobiography; ‘Dub Sub Confidential,’ that you suspect Cluxton may not have been entirely appreciative of, and the not-so confidential nature of it.

As his understudy, Leonard was living a chaotic life with drink and drugs. Once he took out a pair of boots caked in muck from the previous session and felt he had let himself badly down when he copped Cluxton’s discreet reaction.

In trying to gain ground, Leonard pushed his training starting time back a bit. And another bit. And a bit more. Before long, he was turning up to training two hours before the session was due to commence. But he never beat Cluxton through the door.

‘His pre-warm-up consisted of hitting twenty balls over from the 14-yard line. He then moved out ten yards and repeated the process from the left and the right. Then he moved out to the 45. There was no hidden secret, no enigma. He simply practised excellent technique over and over and over,’ Leonard wrote.

‘…The bog-standard GAA kicking tees were either training cones which had been cut with a scissors, or the funky-looking yellow or green hedgehog-style ones. Neither of those quite suited Clucko, so he had his very own kicking tee created by the dentist who moulded the gumshields for our squad.’

Asking a dentist to make a kicking tee is the best way to sum Stephen Cluxton up. A distraction? Hardly.

Get instant updates on the Allianz Football and Hurling Leagues on The42 app. Brought to you by Allianz Insurance, proud sponsors of the Allianz Leagues for over 30 years.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel