Tuesday 17 September 2019

Alan Brogan: 'It's impossible to underestimate the role of Stephen Cluxton in Dublin's performance'

Stephen Cluxton of Dublin saves Paul Geaney's penalty
Stephen Cluxton of Dublin saves Paul Geaney's penalty

Alan Brogan

EVEN a game of a million mad little events has a few on which the outcome hinges. Yes, Jack McCaffrey produced one of the great All-Ireland final performances.

And clearly, Jonny Cooper's sending off changed the game beyond all recognition. Despite what many people in Dublin might be telling themselves today, it's impossible to know how the game would have panned out had he been spared by David Gough – or even by Jim Gavin had he made a change.

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But it's impossible to underestimate the role of Stephen Cluxton in Dublin's performance.

Paul Geaney's penalty wasn't the sweetest strike of a ball we've seen in Croke Park and it wasn't at a height where Clucko could only get his fingertips to it.

But he read it well, made his move early and pulled off the save at a key time in yesterday's match.

And the save from Paul Murphy's shot was an incredible act of goalkeeping.

Watch it again. As Murphy pulls the trigger, Clucko is already anticipating the flight of the ball but has to adjust his hand and grazes the ball off the upright.

What a save. And what a vital moment for Dublin.

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Kerry did well for a spell of Stephen's kick-outs in the first half and the three they won in a row gave them huge energy.

And then Dublin recalibrate, Clucko hits Brian Howard with two long kick-outs and they get 1-1.

It's that persistence, the bravery to do the right thing regardless of what has just happened in the match, that makes Stephen what he is.

If the best option, the one with the greatest chance of reward, is a long, high-risk kick, then he'll take it every time.

And to be fair to Shane Ryan, even though Dublin went bald-headed after his kick-out, the Kerry goalkeeper was never flustered.

He got his short kick-outs away early and came out and immediately provided an option to get the ball back.

And he delivered his long ones as best as he could.

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Dublin gave up four good goal chances yesterday and it's a testament to Stephen's influence that they only got one.

Geaney's early chance that was cleared off the line won't be the moment people remember most about this game but it was a huge turning point.

In the 2011 All-Ireland final, I scored our first two points and then when Bernard tapped a shot down to me, Brendan Kealy made a good save.

Had that gone in, we might have had a different All-Ireland final that year.

Had Kerry scored an early goal yesterday, Dublin would have been on the back foot much earlier.

Another feature of Dublin's performance yesterday was the lack of impact off the bench.

When you consider what influence our substitutes had in 2015, '16 and '17 and then take into account that collectively, the bench scored nothing, that's a major change.

And it's probably why Jim was so keen to bring Diarmuid Connolly back into the squad.

It was a big game for Paddy Small to come into as the first attacking substitute and he was unlucky that his first shot fell short.

As for the two managers, it's difficult to know which will be happier.

Leaving Jonny Cooper on David Clifford was a strange move by Jim.

I thought pairing them was strange in the first place.

Jonny's the last of that Dublin full-back line I'd have put on him; both Davy Byrne and Mick Fitzsimons are better matches for Clifford physically.

The features of Dublin's performance Jim will reflect happiest on will be the individual displays of Jack and Brian Howard.

It was obvious from the start that Dublin were trying to get Jack on the ball as often as possible.

Straight from the throw-in, he sprinted into an attacking position.

Jack had the type of day where had he got more possession, he'd have scored even more.

He seemed to be switching positions with Howard during the match, with Dublin happy enough to play him high up the pitch.

Howard meanwhile, was so good on the ball that you never felt uneasy when he took on a man from a deep defensive position.

His footwork gets him out of a thicket of bodies in an amazing way.

For Kerry, the big success stories were midfield - where David Moran and Jack Barry dominated - Seán O'Shea's ball-striking and their defence.

Kerry's perceived weakness in their full-back line was one of the recurring narratives going into the game but other than Jason Foley on Dean Rock, they broke even in their individual battles.

It wasn't a vintage performance by Dublin but that's the way finals go sometimes and you have to give credit for the way they played yesterday.

And even if Dean was the one with the chance to win it, Kerry were the team had the greater number of wides and they created the more clear-cut goal chances.

The truth is it was there for them yesterday and if they don't manage to seal the deal on Saturday week, it will go down as a massive missed opportunity for this young and rapidly improving Kerry team.

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