Tactic of targeting Cluxton is easier said than done
Published 15/09/2016 | 02:30
Much like when Donal Óg Cusack's short puck-outs transformed the way a restart is viewed in hurling, Stephen Cluxton has completely revolutionised the train of thought surrounding football kick-outs.
Since the day dot a goalkeeper's primary function was to man the goal - for many years they didn't even take kick-outs with a defender given that duty - but now the criteria has radically changed.
The No 1 shirt is now usually filled by someone with accuracy from the tee, or the ground with Bryan Sheehan even rumoured to be starting between the posts for Kerry against Dublin for his kicking talents. Keepers up and down the country have had to upskill and alter their style to the modern challenges of the position.
For years it was a case of who had the longest kick with the criteria of identifying your best midfielder and raining it down on top of him. No need to worry, he'll do the rest. At county level this approach is being gradually weaned out with fielding ability less important as teams try to hold possession.
The kick-out is one of the rare occasions in football where you have control and can decide what to do under no physical pressure so it obviously sparked light bulbs. 'Why should we kick it away and make it a 50-50 contest? It's so hard to win the ball so why don't we go short and keep the ball?'
Distance is now somewhat redundant with accuracy paramount and it all stems back to Cluxton and his trendsetting approach, remember he also made it popular for goalkeepers to replace forwards as free-takers.
Many teams have tried, some have succeeded but most have failed to mimic his style and you could argue that the 'mark' rule which will be trialled next year is a method to assess whether the influence of the three-time All-Ireland winner, who turns 35 on Saturday, can be curbed somewhat.
Teams have tried to target the kick-out as a means to 'get at' the Dubs for some time with Kerry regularly standing in his way or kicking away the ball until they were organised while most recently they pushed 12 men into attack in their semi-final clash.
It was only for a brief period before half-time but reaped dividends, with Darran O'Sullivan putting the ball in the net after a misplaced kick from the Dublin keeper which was quickly followed by Paul Geaney's goal from a high delivery.
Cluxton looked frazzled then but the half-time whistle came and he regrouped before playing his part as the Dubs put Kerry to the sword with two injury-time points.
His Parnells team-mate Conor Mortimer blew away any notion of doubts lingering in the Dublin skipper's mind, however, after a brief stint of nerves.
"No. I was only talking to him the day after. In fairness to him he didn't even see the Kerry fella when he kicked the ball. When they put the ball down they're expecting a Dublin man out on the wing each time, that's how they train," the former Mayo attacker says.
"He had a bit of nervous two or three minutes and put one out over the line after it as well. As far as going into the next game, not particularly. As a goalkeeper, because his level is so high I think the mistakes that he makes are scrutinised a lot more.
"Goalkeepers make mistakes, that's part of the job, because his role is so much...it's a bit like Guardiola with Man City with the (Joe) Hart situation, it's all about your feet. His kick-outs are all we talk about not his stopping.
"He made a couple of bad kicks and he effectively had a poor game but he didn't really, he only lost three kick-outs the whole day, that's a phenomenal standard. Anyone can be rattled. But I think mentally he is very strong. The difference with Clucko, it is the same process all the time."
Kingdom attacker O'Sullivan was the benefactor from Cluxton's misplaced kick and he outlines how they have tried several tactics to upset his flow with varying success as they look to stop Dublin's attacks "at source".
"We have done that in previous years but in fairness he finds a way around it, so we might have just caught him on the hop a small bit. Obviously you don't want to give up possession all the time because then you are just chasing," the four-time All-Ireland winner says.
"So if you can make them put it out 50-50 I suppose it's the best way of doing it. I was up at Man United against City at the weekend and I could see United pushing up on Claudio Bravo. That's what Guardiola wants his teams doing and they made him put it out.
"It's easier said than done because he's so quick at getting it out and if you don't have six forwards on six backs it's always going to be hard. But if you can slow him down any bit you give yourself a chance of getting bodies back."
For Mayo to finally bridge a 65-year gap and claim Sam Maguire this Sunday Mortimer feels they must hammer the hammer and push up on Cluxton like previous years. "I think he'll have to go long at the weekend, I think Mayo are going to push up. I don't think we're going to allow them short kick-outs for the whole game, maybe 10 minutes here and there," he says.
"Change it up because the thing with pressing Dublin's kick-outs is the fact that they're so fit and mobile is that they don't tire very easily and that's why you do your five minute spell and then drop off. When we've played them the last three times we've had the upper hand, we've forced them to kick long and had plenty of joy from it.
"We probably should have beat them twice last year and we have potential to rattle them on the kick-out."
Darran O'Sullivan and Conor Mortimer were speaking at the launch of this year's Volkswagen All-Ireland Senior Football Sevens, which takes place in Kilmacud Crokes GAA club on Saturday.