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Shefflin and Farrell give finality to exits of the greatest Galway and Dublin have produced

It was confirmed over the weekend that inter-county returns for Joe Canning and Stephen Cluxton are not on the cards.

HENRY SHEFFLIN AND Dessie Farrell knew the questions were coming. 

pjimage (2) All-Ireland winning captains Joe Canning and Stephen Cluxton. Source: Inpho

After an experimental Dublin outfit defeated Offaly by five points in the O’Byrne Cup on Saturday afternoon, the issue of Stephen Cluxton’s involvement was raised in the manager’s post-game interview. 

Farrell spent the early part of last season batting away questions around the availability of the seven-time All-Ireland winning captain. It took him until July, after the win over Wexford in their Leinster opener, to finally rule Cluxton out of the 2021 season.

This came two weeks after Ciaran Kilkenny indicated to the media that the Parnell’s man had indeed returned to training. Prior to that, there had been reports that Cluxton was unhappy with Dublin’s Covid training breach. 

When Dublin saw off Meath in unconvincing fashion in the Leinster semi-final, Farrell stated “ultimately that decision whether Stephen plays for Dublin again rests with him.”

When Farrell reflected on his second season in charge, allowing the issue linger for so long was undoubtedly something he regretted.

It was an issue that hung over Dublin for most of the campaign. For young goalkeeper Evan Comerford, who stepped into his shoes, it must have been difficult to avoid the outside noise in his first campaign as the undisputed number one.

In confirming Cluxton would not be part of their plans in 2021, he made it clear that Cluxton had “stepped away” rather than retired.

This time around, Farrell’s message had more of a tone of finality to it. 

“Stephen won’t be involved this year” he told reporters. “Stephen’s not one for big announcements as you know. There’ll be no fanfare or official announcements from him, but he won’t be involved this year.

“Out of respect to him, we need to let him live his life and we need to do our own thing, so we know the position and hopefully everyone else knows it at this stage as well.”

dessie-farrell Dublin boss Dessie Farrell. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Farrell danced around announcing Cluxton’s retirement on behalf of the great goalkeeper, but reading between the lines it certainly looks like it’s the end. Cluxton, recently turned 40, always shied away from the limelight, despite his central role in the most dominant county side in GAA history. 

There was never going to be a carefully crafted statement released through the GPA or Dublin county board.

Shefflin, meanwhile, took the first available opportunity to confirm that Joe Canning wouldn’t be performing a u-turn on his Galway retirement. 

The Kilkenny legend guided his new team past Offaly in the Walsh Cup, introducing some exciting fresh talent on his managerial debut. 

Canning’s surprise retirement came last July, just days after the Tribesmen exited the championship. 

In an interview the following month, he doubled down on his decision.

“If people know me kind of personally, I’m stubborn enough,” he said. “If I say something, that’s it and that’s the way it is. There’s no return from me I’m afraid, that’s the way it is.”

Then manager Shane O’Neill vacated the hot-seat. Even before a new man was appointed, speculation over Canning’s return started. When Davy Fitzgerald looked destined to take charge, it was felt his previous relationship with Canning from their Fitzgibbon Cup days in LIT could persuade the Portumna man to change his mind.

Amid the excitement over Shefflin’s shock appointment in November, the prospect of the legendary figure luring a fellow former Hurler of the Year back into the fold was widely discussed. 

But Shefflin firmly closed the door on Sunday, announcing that, while he’d “love” to have worked with Canning, he fully respected his retirement from inter-county hurling. 

“Yes I did chat to Joe, but Joe was very comfortable with his position,” said the 11-time All-Ireland winner.

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michael-fennelly-and-henry-shefflin-shake-hands-after-the-game New Galway manager Henry Shefflin greets his club-mate and Offaly boss Michael Fennelly. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

So over the course of 24 hours, the inter-county exits of Cluxton and Canning were confirmed. 

Both will go down as the greatest either county ever produced in their code. 

Canning fitting left the stage as the championship’s all-time leading scorer, setting the new record in the 65th minute of his final game for the county. His wizardry was forever enshrined in the All-Ireland success of 2017 that bridged a 29-year wait for the MacCarthy Cup out west. 

He’ll take his first steps into coaching with the Galway minors this year. It’s too early to say if a future in management awaits him, but he certainly has the hurling brain and determination to make a success of it if he’s so inclined.

The lack of fanfare around Cluxton’s exit this week is just the way he’d have liked it. He’ll keep a low profile in the media, but it will be interesting to see if he follows Canning’s lead and become involved in coaching the next generation in Dublin at some point down the line.

Whatever their future holds, after 14- and 19-year careers respectively, both Canning and Cluxton left an indelible imprint on the game that will stand the test of time. 

They’ll be missed.

– First published 12.16, 11 January

BTL 5

About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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