You might expect that with Conor Mortimer surrounded by reporters and Mayo just days away from an All-Ireland final against Dublin, Stephen Cluxton’s ears would be burning.
You’d be right but not for the reasons you’d think as it is a robust defence of Cluxton’s actions, on and off the field, Mortimer offers rather than a plea to his native Mayo to breach his defences Sunday.
Former Mayo All Star Mortimer and Cluxton are club colleagues at Parnells in Coolock and as far back as a decade ago were playing on the same DCU team that won a first Sigerson Cup for the Glasnevin university.
So when you put it to Mortimer, the Championship’s top scorer a decade ago, Cluxton looked rattled and even a little embarrassed as the goals flew past him against Kerry, he almost seems a little offended himself.
“No, I was only talking to him the day after,” said Mortimer. “In fairness to him, he didn’t even see the Kerry fella when he kicked the ball out for the first goal. When he puts the ball down for a kick-out he’s expecting a Dublin man out on the wing each time, that’s what they train for and he (the Kerry man) just happened to be standing there. He had a bit of a nervous two or three minutes and put a couple out over the line after it as well but as far as bringing that into the next game, not a chance.
“Because his levels are so high the mistakes that he makes are scrutinised a lot more. Goalkeepers make mistakes, that’s part of their job. And (with Cluxton) I often think it’s a bit like Guardiola with Man City and the Joe Hart thing, it’s all about your feet. Cluxton’s kick-outs are all we talk about, not his stopping. That’s what a goalkeeper used to be all about but now it’s all about how he kicks the ball. He just made a couple of bad kicks and it was said he had a poor game but he didn’t really.
“The majority of the game was good, that couple of minutes spell was poor but he only lost three kick-outs all day, that’s a phenomenal standard.”
If those goals truly didn’t rattle the veteran netminder, can he be rattled at all?
“Anyone can be rattled,” replied Mortimer. “But I think mentally he is strong, even going back to the free he kicked against Kerry in the final of 2011. A lot of outfield players wouldn’t have kicked that. The difference with Clucko is it is the same process all the time. He has kicked lots of frees over the bar and missed a few but he always goes back to the same process.”
He doesn’t laugh a whole pile though, or even crack a smile? “No, there is no laughing on the pitch but he is pretty serious when it comes to his football,” Mortimer observed. “But off the pitch, yeah, definitely, he is the same as anybody. It’s like anything, I mightn’t know Joe Bloggs down the street and it’s, ‘ah, he’s a clown’ but you might know him and know he is a lovely fella. It is people’s opinions.
“Like the time he came off the pitch and went into the dressing-room after winning the All-Ireland, people were saying he is odd and weird and all of this. Nah, it is just what different people do.”
So no sense of frustration or self-doubt from Cluxton then the day after the Kerry game?
“Not at all, he’ll just go straight back to the same process. I actually texted him that night of the game. Normally after a semi-final, you would be out and about, having the craic, but he was sitting at home on his couch. That is what he does.”
Mortimer became Mayo’s all-time leading scorer in 2012 though fell out with manager James Horan soon after and departed. He once responded to detractors by claiming Mayo won’t win the All-Ireland they crave without him, but he gives his county a decent shout at getting the job done this weekend.
He accepts Mayo will have to deliver a performance better than anything they have given all year and called for Aidan O’Shea to be played mainly outfield, to get him on the ball more.
He expressed concern about the full-back position with Ger Cafferkey a long-term injury absentee and admitted Mayo are probably vulnerable in the position.
But he expressed faith in manager Stephen Rochford and his tactical ability.
“What he’s done different to previous managers is that he’s not afraid to make changes and make them when he needs to make them fairly early in games,” said Mortimer.
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