It’s all about the team for Stephen Cluxton

The newly-crowned PwC GAA/GPA Footballer of the Year gave some fascinating insights into his world as a shot-stopper with the all-conquering Dublin last Friday.

It’s all about the team for Stephen Cluxton

So rare is it that we hear from Stephen Cluxton that when he does speak, there is always greater intrigue in his thoughts and opinions.

The newly-crowned PwC GAA/GPA Footballer of the Year gave some fascinating insights into his world as a shot-stopper with the all-conquering Dublin last Friday.

And the primary theme of his answers to the many and varied questions posed to him was that of the incredible bond that clearly exists among Jim Gavin’s squad.

You can even tell this is the case with the players’ social media postings and whatnot already, but Cluxton illustrated how good the group dynamic is when discussing the issue of how humble this Dublin panel seems to be, despite their success.

“I think it's a huge part of it. I'd go to the cinema with someone like Eoin Murchan, Brian Fenton and his partner Sarah, and sometimes Con O'Callaghan. Obviously when we're within the Championship season you don't obviously get to go out and have a drink with these guys. We get on so well outside of football that I think it makes you that bit hungrier and that bit more willing to put it all out on the line for them. That's the sign of this team, their humility, and just the friendship we have in the group is fantastic,” Cluxton explained.

Like, if I never won a medal in football for any team, the friendship we have is just better than anything.

“We kind of live out of each other's pockets for most of the year. In years previously I wouldn't have been that close to guys I would have just gone to training, trained hard, and gone home and that was it. But, for some reason, maybe it's the captaincy or whatever, there just seems to be that kind of friendship there now. I think the best times that you have with these guys are in training.

"That's when you actually have the most joy and fun and the joking and stuff like that. The dressing-room banter and stuff like that, you just can't get it anywhere.”

Cluxton explained how such a bond is translated on to the pitch during matches, especially with his defenders.

“Sometimes you don't even talk to each other in a game. You just need to look at each other and you know what the other guy is thinking. You know what you get with these guys. I've seen it in training. They just give everything. They're just those type of guys where they just give everything all the time. I just respect that with anybody.

If guys are killing themselves to play football then that to me shows me exactly the type of person they are and I absolutely love them for that. That, to me, speaks volumes in terms of what they really want.

“Because people can talk the talk sometimes, and they don't back it up with the actions. These guys put it in every day on the training field and that's what I get from them.”

It sounds like that ethos is just engrained now in this Dublin group. That you all pretty much self-police one another and anything other than total commitment and hard-work just isn't acceptable within the group?

“Yeah, that's it. In fairness to the older guys, they have passed that down to the younger guys,” he said. “Now, I'm not saying the younger guys weren't hungry because they won All-Irelands at underage so came in with that attitude anyway. I kind of just reaffirmed their belief that you have to work hard if you want to succeed. And, yeah, it is unacceptable for guys to turn up and not train as hard as they possibly can. People would call you out. It's healthy, I think, that guys are like that.”

Winning the Footballer of the Year award obviously has as much of an impact on those close to Cluxton as it does the player himself.

“Oh yeah, it goes back so, so far. I didn't play Gaelic Football until I was about 13 or 14. And when I was playing I was playing as a corner-forward in school I was just lucky when I got into goal in school that the coaches I had were fantastic. Brian Talty, a Galway man, Brian Moran, Brian Lavin, two Kerry-men. Those guys got me started into Gaelic Football and on that journey.

“Brian Murphy, another Kerry guy who was goalkeeper at the time with me in the early years. We were starting to put drills together and things like that. Phenomenal fellas have started that. And obviously nowadays Josh Byrne is a phenomenal coach for me, a great character, a great presence to have around. He always comes in with a smile. He's just a phenomenal character.

But it does start with your parents and their dedication to bring me to games as a child and any sport that was available was a huge bearing on where I am today. Within all those I wouldn't be here, that's for sure,” Cluxton mused.

The key question now is: Will Cluxton stay on with the All-Ireland champions for 2020? Will the journey with Dublin continue for Cluxton?

I've tried to reflect on every year and I've tried to promise myself that I would be better the following year.

"Obviously there have been highs and lows throughout the years and throughout my career. And, you know, I still think when I look back over my years that I've probably been getting better and better. My coaching has improved as well and I think I've been more focused on goalkeeping than I have been over the years.

“I think that's a credit to my coach because he comes out and does extra training days with me every week in the season. His commitment to it is second to none,” he added.

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