Tuesday 25 July 2017

No fuss, no fanfare as Cluxton lets his boot do the talking

Stephen Cluxton steps up to kick the winning point for Dublin
Stephen Cluxton steps up to kick the winning point for Dublin

WITHOUT a hint of emotion, Stephen Cluxton nonchalantly greeted Joe McQuillan's whistle by stooping to gather his belongings in one of the corners of the Davin End goals.

He then walked slowly towards the tunnel beneath the Hogan Stand that would carry him to tranquility away from the maddening crowd just a few minutes later.

He had the quiet air of a production hand routinely clocking off an assembly line, not a man who had just seconds earlier delivered a nerveless kick to liberate a team and a people who, in the words of their captain Bryan Cullen in his acceptance speech had been "to hell and back" in their quest for this place.

No fuss, no fanfare with Cluxton, the most influential goalkeeper of his generation. Just a need to detach.

Eventually he would come back out and share the moment with his team mates as Cullen hoisted Sam to the sky, but a lap of honour for the hordes that had waited behind? Well that would be show of public emotion too far for him.

Not a lot of people can claim to know Cluxton, not even those closest to him in a dressing room that his kick has brought so much salvation to.

Cluxton is an intensely private individual. He observes the practice of keeping that distance with rigid discipline.

The man who lists "not speaking to the media" as the best advice he has ever received in his personal profile on the Dublin website is not for sale to any PR company flogging a brand and seeking a face and a voice to draw attention to it.

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But hand him a ball 35 metres to one side of the Hill 16 goals in Croke Park in injury time and ask him to convert it to claim a first All-Ireland title for Dublin in 16 years and only a third championship win in 77 years and you wouldn't really want anyone else standing over it.

Bernard Brogan certainly didn't want it any other way.

"I never had a shadow of a doubt that he was going to get that. It went right over the black spot. He has got a great mental ability to kick that without any nerves. It shows his strength. He is an unbelievable talent and we are lucky to have him."

Pat Gilroy's faith was unwavering too. Introducing Cluxton as the team's right-sided place kicker from a certain distance out has been one of those left-field moves from the management that has brought a very definite plan to fruition.

"He's hit about a million frees from there since he's been given the oppor

tunity to kick them and that's the place he practises from," admitted Gilroy.

"We all had great faith in him because taking a free like that wouldn't bother him or faze him."

But then Gilroy has had to be a man of deep faith on so many fronts to stick with his plan and hope for an ending like this.

More than two years ago Dublin were in ruins after that ruthless Bank Holiday Monday massacre by Kerry.

Gilroy knew they simply had to change their ways and a key meeting in the quiet Monaghan backwater of Corduff set them on the path to recovery, he recalled yesterday.

"We addressed 2009 in November that year in a very strong way. We dealt with it and it stayed there. I'm glad now we can really put it behind us, but we did deal with it in Corduff in Monaghan one night.

"There was a development squad game where a lot of the guys came up as well. We played Monaghan under the lights in the rain. A lot of it was dealt with there and then and that was the best place for it.

What needed to change?

"The defence, simply the defence and our mindset," he ventured.

"We've done an awful lot of work on our mindset. We've got huge benefit out of doing things a certain way.

"Some people who know a lot about the mind have been really helpful, they've done exceptional stuff with us to be honest and we'd be very grateful to them."

Vexed last April at the suggestion that Dublin teams had a mental block on the big stage when they coughed up another big lead against Cork in the league final, Gilroy always felt the breaks would come for them.

Humanity decrees that it eventually would.

"There's only so much pain humans can take and we've been through...I mean I've only been here a short time really in comparison to some of these fellas. As a supporter we've been through terrible days here and there's only so much of that you can keep taking.

"Today, no matter what happened, we were going to get the result. That's the attitude we had all week.

The temptation to start Kevin McManamon was never there, he admitted, despite his cameo against Donegal three weeks earlier.

"That was the type of game where he could come in and do a particular job. We had ideas in our head and certain things were working in training. To be honest Kevin has been in fantastic form, but we did feel that we needed to have game changers on the sideline."

For Brogan, the seeds of their late recovery here were sown in that Donegal game where different scoreline ratios applied.

"We obviously weren't in a great position, but I look back to the Donegal game and think we have dug this out before.

"They were three points up which, in that game, was about the equivalent of six or seven."

For Alan Brogan it has been frustrating journey over the decade that he has been involved, but the injection of youth last year has made all the difference in his estimation.

"These young guys don't carry any baggage with them. Playing against Kerry doesn't faze them as it might have fazed us four or five years ago and I think that has been the difference in pushing us over the line."

For Mickey Whelan, Gilroy's veteran coach, that journey is even more rewarding.

Some 14 years ago he was hounded out of Dublin management by a vitriolic element who didn't see his face fitting.

"No one died," Mickey cheerily remarked as he walked away from the job and Parnell Park after a league defeat to Offaly in October 1997.

And he has lived to reap redemption.

Irish Independent

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