Michael Savage has won All-Irelands, Leinsters and National Leagues with Dublin but, for the St Vincent’s goalkeeper, life in Stephen Cluxton’s shadow amounts to life in a gilded cage.
Cluxton has been the first name on the Dubs’ teamsheet, literally, for 15 years. He has won five All Stars and his kickouts have been credited with changing the face of Gaelic football. At 34, he could have years in the tank yet.
Savage isn’t the first man to bide his time on the bench, gloves and tee at the ready. The list of Cluxton’s attempted usurpers is long: Paul Copeland, Jason Leonard, Shane Supple, and Sean Currie are just a few of them.
Three more custodians have kept watch on the rigging for the county U21s in three All-Ireland-winning campaigns since 2010 and they too have had to sit in the queue, headed now by Savage.
“That’s the nature of it,” said the two-time All-Ireland club winner. “You want to compete with the best guys out there at county level... I’m there competing against who I would consider the best ’keeper in Ireland.
“And, you know, that’s what you want to do. Obviously I haven’t been good enough to get by him yet, but that’s the challenge in front of me: To keep working at that, be the best ’keeper I can be.”
Vincent’s acts the part of badly-needed release. The match programme for last Saturday’s county final against Castleknock, which Vincent’s won by five points, contained a player profile section replete with each man’s favourite movie quote. Savage’s, from Remember the Titans, was instructive: “Dive on that ball like a starving man on a Christmas ham.”
Now 30, he has manned the last line for the Marino side for the best part of a decade and the club’s successes have gone a long way to easing inter-county frustrations. All-Ireland champions back in 2007, Vincent’s have established a grip on Dublin with three titles in the last two years.
However, last year’s failure still fuels them. A slow start in the county final against Ballyboden St Enda’s left them with far too much ground to make up and it cost them a first three-in-a-row since Na Fianna managed it back in 2001.
It also deprived them of the chance to atone for the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Galway’s Corofin earlier that year, though they stand as early favourites to take the Andy Merrigan Cup in March.
“You’ve kind of caught me off guard there,” said Savage. “It’s not something I’ve thought too much about... We’re playing a strong [Palatine] team from Carlow next. That’s where all our focus is now.”
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