Monday 19 August 2019

Centurion Cluxton set to hit new Championship milestone

Stephen Cluxton. Photo: Sportsfile
Stephen Cluxton. Photo: Sportsfile
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Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Stephen Cluxton has broken records and passed milestones with such regularity in the latter stages his career that another frontier crossed scarcely warrants a second glance.

There was a time, for instance, when players who had lifted the Sam Maguire Cup twice were novelties, worthy of a trivia question to reflect a considerable achievement. Cluxton has done it five times now and it's hard to see how that it won't be six later this summer.

But for any GAA player, even a goalkeeper, amassing 100 championship appearances as the Dublin captain will do when the champions play Kildare in Sunday's Leinster semi-final, it takes something special.

Cluxton already has the most championship appearances accumulated - ironically drawing level with the Ó Sé brothers, Tomás and Marc on 88 in the 2017 Leinster final against Kildare.

Two games later, against Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final, he became the first to break the 90-appearance barrier and now, less than two years later, he'll be the first to push through the 100-mark.

Even allowing for the increased windows of opportunity through qualifiers and 'Super 8s' games, it's hard to see how Cluxton could be topped in any new format.

This is his 19th championship season with Dublin and only twice since establishing himself as the No 1 choice has he not started a championship game, against Westmeath in the 2004 Leinster quarter-final when he was a suspended and last summer when he picked up a knock against Longford in the Leinster semi-final and missed the final against Laois. It's a magnificent record of service, underlining consistency, hunger to persist and avoidance of injury.

His 'clean sheet' against Louth in their opening game last month was his 57th in championship action, giving him a 57.5 per cent return.

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The list of top most championship appearances is, naturally, populated with players from the qualifier era onwards.

Only Dublin's John O'Leary, who played 70 consecutive championship games between 1981 and 1997 and another goalkeeper, Kerry's Dan O'Keeffe, who played 66 times between 1931 and '48, are outside this period on the list compiled here.

And it is very much the preserve of the more successful counties. Eight of the 15 players who have played 70 championship games or more are from Kerry. Outside Cluxton, no player has yet passed the 90-championship appearance barrier.

Sean Cavanagh was one behind Cluxton when he quit the game after the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final which Tyrone lost heavily to Dublin. By then Cavanagh had passed 88, which is where Tomás and Marc Ó Sé stopped.

Among those still playing, only Andy Moran is within sight of 80 with a realistic target of reaching it in the coming weeks if Mayo get some qualifier momentum.

Moran's appearances off the bench against New York and Roscommon in the Connacht Championship have taken him to 78.

His figures have soared from those back-to-back seasons under Stephen Rochford in 2016 and 2017 where Mayo played 19 games as they exited the Connacht Championship early and had qualifiers and replays to negotiate to reach All-Ireland finals. His long-serving Mayo team-mate Keith Higgins is also pressing up on the 70-mark on the back of that recent activity.

Recent

Laois attacker Ross Munnelly played his 75th championship game in last year's qualifier against Monaghan but sat out the recent win against Westmeath as he started out on a 17th season with the county team.

Given that they would not have reached All-Ireland quarter-finals on his watch as often as some of his contemporaries, it too represents quite a return for Munnelly.

Cluxton apart, no other current Dublin player features on the Top 20 list. Bernard Brogan turned 35 recently and is on 56 appearances, having made his debut in 2007, aged 23. Injuries and the competitive nature of the Dublin attack in recent seasons have also restricted his involvement.

The GAA remains without a central database for records of this nature that document appearances and scores. Hence the reliance on local sources and historians to retain such information and compile it accordingly.

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