Cluxton left kicking his heels

From the time he grabbed Davy Byrne’s starting spot during the 2001 Leinster championship, Stephen Cluxton has missed few important games for Dublin.

Cluxton left kicking his heels

This Sunday is one of those days, his straight red card for a kick out at Mayo’s Kevin McLoughlin, seeing him miss the trip to Tyrone. It’s the second time he’s missed a game following a ban, his 2003 reaction to Stevie McDonnell in qualifier ruling him out of the following season’s Leinster quarter-final defeat to Westmeath. And with Dublin needing a win in Omagh to seal a semi-final place it most surely is the second most significant fixture for which he’s been absent.

Although injury has sidelined him on a couple of occasions in league games, squad rotation has been the primary reason for the 17 league games he’s previously missed. Including Byrne, he has seen off five goalkeepers and could well yet outlast Sean Currie who is line to take his place in Healy Park. The county’s U21 netminder Lorcan Molloy could be deployed instead but it remains to be seen whether Dessie Farrell and senior manager can come to an arrangement as the dual level players juggle commitments.

But the real question now is can Cluxton actually be replaced given his importance to Dublin cause as a restarting “quarter-back”, shot stopper, 45 converter and long range free-taker?

Turning 33 this year, there’s nothing to say he can’t go on for another few seasons. But when he goes just how much will Dublin’s edge be blunted?

Would another mere mortal have been able to keep the ball away from Aidan O’Shea as he did with his kickouts in last year’s decider?

Then there’s his presence between the posts and the guidance he provides to his full-back line. In 66 championship games he has kept 39 clean sheets and conceded 38 goals; in 75 league matches he’s enjoyed 33 shutouts and coughed up 54 goals.

For now, Dublin might be buoyed by the fact they’ve twice travelled to Tyrone without him, even on the final day of the league, and managed to come away with wins.

There was the Battle of Omagh in 2006 when players from both teams brawled in a deeply ill-tempered affair. St Judes’ Paul Copeland manned the goal-line that day. Then there was 2010 when Dublin, with Michael Savage in nets, help to relegated Tyrone by defeating them by six points.

The counties’ latest meeting last season saw Tyrone record the only defeat across the 2013 league and Championship for Gavin as Shane Supple wore the number one jersey in Croke Park. Many have come and failed to wrest it away from Cluxton but no-one has succeeded.

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