Cluxton to captain Ireland for Test series
Stephen Cluxton's commitment to the Irish International Rules cause has been rewarded with the captaincy for the forthcoming Test series against Australia.
Irish manager Anthony Tohill is expected to announce this morning that Cluxton will lead the squad which takes off for Australia late next week, capping a memorable couple of weeks for the man of the moment, whose injury-time free claimed the All-Ireland title for Dublin last month.
A doubt still hangs over Cluxton's participation in the series, however, because of his involvement with his club Parnells in the latter stages of the much-delayed Dublin SFC.
Parnells play St Sylvester's in a last-16 clash this weekend and if they were victorious he would face a dilemma, with a quarter-final scheduled for the following weekend.
The other significant aspect of Cluxton's imminent appointment is his reluctance to conduct interviews or speak publicly, which is seen as an integral role for an international captain in this series -- that leaves the GAA in something of a dilemma.
Formal press conferences are part of the agreement with both the AFL and the GAA, but it's clearly something the Irish management have considered and alternative plans may be made.
The Irish management have been highly impressed with the attitude of the All-Ireland final match-winner.
On the Saturday morning after his heroics against Kerry he was reportedly the first man to training in DCU and he was the only Dublin player left in the 31-man preliminary squad announced last week.
There was a feeling that Tadhg Kennelly might have been given the captaincy because of his wealth of experience in the game, his status in Australia and the fact that he has now retired from playing and is probably playing his last International Rules Tests.
Kennelly has given good commitment to Ireland over the years but the decision has gone to a home-based player once again.
An 18-man squad is expected to be announced today, with five places left for the remaining 13 to battle for.
The Irish squad will play an Australian selection in Croke Park tomorrow night and the numbers will be brought up to 23 after that.
Cluxton will become only the second Irish International Rules captain from Dublin, following on from John O'Leary, who led the side for the home Tests against the Australians in 1987. He will replace Armagh's Stevie McDonnell, who captained the side in the two Tests in Limerick and Dublin last year.
Cluxton will be the only member of the Dublin team available to the International Rules management, as Alan and Bernard Brogan have already been excluded from the 31-man squad as they concentrate solely on club duties.
Cluxton has never played in an International Rules away Test before. In 2003 and '05 he spurned the opportunity to travel, citing an apparent fear of flying, while Meath's David Gallagher was goalkeeper when the Sean Cavanagh-led side beat the Australians in '08.
The last three Irish captains have come from Ulster -- Kieran McGeeney ('06), Cavanagh ('08) and McDonnell (2010).
Kennelly and Pearse Hanley have remained in Australia but are expected to be part of the squad and will link up with them when they arrive, while other AFL players Tommy Walsh (Kerry), Zac Tuohy (Laois), Chrissy McKaigue (Derry) and Michael Quinn (Longford) are all still part of the extended training squad.
One name that has been confirmed absent, however, is Martin Clarke, who is returning to Collingwood to resume his AFL career.
Collingwood confirmed yesterday that they have re-signed the Down man as part of a trade with the new Sydney franchise.
Clarke has made himself unavailable to the International Rules management as a consequence.
He has not yet left for Australia as his club continue their relegation battles in Down, but former Mourne county manager and player Ross Carr admitted yesterday he will be a massive loss.
"People might say that Marty wasn't as good this year as he was last year but the fact is he was only in his second season as an inter-county footballer. We tend to forget that. If you look at his scoring stats over the last two league campaigns I'd say he was in the top four or five," said Carr.
"It's no great surprise that he is going but he will leave a huge void nonetheless."
Down have feared the worst about Clarke since late last year, and when he heavily criticised the weather and the state of the pitch in Castlebar for Down's opening league match against Mayo in February it was taken as a strong hint that his mind was turning towards a warmer climate.