Cluxton’s tunnel vision for Dublin

Stephen Cluxton is one of the most recognisable footballers in Ireland but also the most private

Cluxton’s tunnel vision for Dublin

When a player is bearing down on his goal, Cluxton’s reputation counts for a lot

Modern folklore is the term best used to describe what Dublin’s current goalkeeper did two days after kicking an All-Ireland winning point.

The story is most likely embellished to tally with what he did the previous Sunday. With the matter-of-fact nature of that critical strike. With his discarding of the match-ball after receiving it from Tomás Ó Sé (he later called the Kerry defender to ensure no offence was taken).

With his dart to the dressing room as Dublin prepared for Bryan Cullen’s acceptance speech and his refusal to join the lap of honour.

But it’s been said on that Tuesday morning, the secondary school science teacher in St Vincent’s, Glasnevin strolled into class to be met by an understandably awestruck group of students.

Confounded by their reaction, he ordered them to open the books and get to work. Like his attitude has been to the media up until this year, there would be no questions.

What is true is less than seven days after that monumental kick he was training with the Ireland International Rules team in Maynooth, a side for which he was later made captain by Anthony Tohill.

Steven McDonnell saw him that day and couldn’t help but be impressed. “It told me how committed he was to playing football across the board. Nobody would have blamed him for celebrating but he wanted to wear the Ireland jersey. It spoke volumes about the pride he has for any of the teams he’s been selected for.”

McDonnell, of course, was the other party in the one and only time Cluxton has been sent off in a Championship match, Dublin’s defeat to Armagh in the 2003 third round qualifier.

Then manager Tommy Lyons all but pointed the finger of blame for the defeat on Cluxton while Joe Brolly described him as “a disgrace”.

McDonnell, though, was no innocent in it all, even though the pair shook hands before he left the field. “I very discreetly gave him a wee jab into the stomach. He didn’t take too kindly to that and lashed out with a kick. It was a spur of the moment thing but I knew it would rile him. Pat McEnaney saw the retaliation and sent him off. The free was overturned to us and I kicked it over. From there on in, there was only one team in it.

“We’ve never brought it up in all the times we’ve spoken. It was just one of those things that happen in the heat of Championship battle. He lashed out and he was maybe a bit young and naive. I couldn’t see it happening now.”

Back then, Cluxton was only a goalkeeper as much as he courted attention because Dublin have had so few mainstay netminders down through the years.

Just as it is now, he wasn’t comfortable with the media although in a rare interview prior to playing the TG4 Underdogs later that year, he said Dublin might as well pack up if they were to lose to the makeshift reality TV team.

He’s always viewing matters that simply. In Sportsfile’s A Rare Auld Season celebrating Dublin’s 2011 win, he made light of his winning free-kick.

“You go through your routine, nothing else matters. One free is just as important as the next.”

Having taught, coached and worked alongside him, former Dublin selector Brian Talty wasn’t surprised with his Parnells team-mate’s restrained reaction after the point. “If it were me I’d be up in the Hogan Stand celebrating but he just saw it as his job to kick that over. He’d have taken satisfaction from getting the results from the practice he had put in. He wouldn’t be interested in anything else.”

Talty looks at him now and how the need to reinvent his kick-out has positively exercised Cluxton. “The big thing is the development of the shorter kick-out. He was always good with kick-outs but it was different with Ciarán Whelan and Shane Ryan. Gilroy wanted the shorter ones and Clucko picking people out.

“It’s been a big weapon for Dublin and Clucko would try to perfect everything he does in that regard. He wouldn’t be happy until he had practised it over and over again.”

Monaghan captain Owen Lennon remembers Cluxton from their DCU days together as a goalkeeper who rarely floated a ball for a high catcher. “It was usually hit with a lower trajectory and more direct.”

In that way, his style of kick-out has suited more Dublin players to claim the ball. “The movement of the Dublin players is unbelievable. He’s been getting away with it because he knows how things move in front of him and that his kicks are so well positioned. People still haven’t copped onto that fully because he can vary it so much. You wouldn’t expect to see much ball being kicked on top of the O’Sheas on Sunday. Retaining a high percentage of kickouts for Dublin is important for Dublin even it’s only being kicked 10 or 15 yards.”

Cluxton’s appearances at post-match press conferences alongside Jim Gavin in Croke Park this year haven’t made him any less of an enigma. With frequent staccato responses or one-word answers, not much has been unveiled. At other times, he’s been humorous but perhaps without so much intention. Asked about how impressive Kerry’s attack were the last day, he said: “Sure I’m not marking them.”

When he paints it so black and white, it’s understandable how the world of science and absolutes would appeal to Cluxton.

Asked if Meath had succeeded in doing their homework on his kick-outs in the Leinster final, he responded: “No, I think we were a bit lethargic ourselves and I made a few errors myself, so that was it.”

What did he mean by lethargic? “I just felt they didn’t really want it. Maybe they were tired or the sun was taking it out of them.”

Giving out is a prerequisite of any goalkeeper but there are few more vocal than Cluxton. Even if they aren’t heard, his barks on Sunday will be just as loud if not louder than the ones heard on a cold January night in Donnycarney.

Talty laughs: “He would have been giving out (to management) when he was 13 years of age. He would have his ideas on games, he’d always express his feelings. He’d be most critical of himself. He wouldn’t be hiding from anything he did wrong. He’d hold his hand up and you’d know he’d be working on it the next night in training but he wouldn’t be shy of telling lads they were wrong if they weren’t admitting to it.”

The fear he can strike into his own team-mates is just as prevalent in opponents, according to McDonnell. “He has a presence. When a player is bearing down on his goal his reputation counts for a lot. The player’s thinking ‘I’m coming up against the best in the business here’. Putting that doubt in a player’s mind is invaluable.”

When they are very few in his own head as well, he’s priceless.

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