‘I saw a man’s name I’d rather had stayed retired!’ – Stephen Cluxton not back to warm the Dublin bench
DUBLIN 0-16 LOUTH 1-6
“Any questions about the match, lads, no?” asks Dublin’s media manager, half-joking, half-incredulous.
Dessie Farrell sits in the media room, the cinema-shaped auditorium under the Hogan Stand, where post-match press briefings in Croke Park take place. Most days, they pass without incident. This is not one of those days.
Dublin have just beaten Louth who, for much of last week, were speculated to be Leinster’s second team. That may well be the case.
As a consequence of the result, Dublin are into a Division 2 final against the only team to beat them this year, Derry, on Sunday.
However, as talking points from yesterday go, they were well down the list. A full seven questions into the press conference, to be precise. They are AOB.
That’s the thing about a monolith animating and conducting a warm-up in front of Hill 16: it’s hard to play down.
According to Dublin boss Farrell, Stephen Cluxton had trained for two weeks with the squad in advance of last Sunday.
That they managed to keep it under wraps until the moment he appeared from the dressing room in Croke Park yesterday was an achievement of media management in and of itself.
So the line of questioning Farrell faced yesterday was inevitable. We knew it. He knew it.
“Stephen has always been very close to everyone in the squad,” he explained. “He’s never been too far away, and we’ve been delighted to have him back in the mix.
“Obviously, Stephen’s leadership and experience and the personality he is, those types of individuals are invaluable in any set-up.
“Over the past couple of seasons, we’ve had a few players move on and retire and that type of thing. So it’s definitely a very welcome addition.”
The answers to the how, why, when and where, were all thrown in together.
Dublin, as Farrell outlined, had a vacancy in their squad due to the injury that has kept Evan Comerford out through the league.
“Stephen has always said if he could ever help us out in any way, he’d be willing to do it,” Farrell outlined.
“We’re delighted to have him in the mix.”
Asked whether he was surprised that Cluxton was in that mix, Farrell replied: “No, I wouldn’t be surprised. Knowing the individual (he is), the competitive juice is always there.
“He’s always been Dublin true and true, and when the time calls, he stepped forward, and it’s great to have him.”
When it was put to Farrell that Cluxton hadn’t returned to the intense coalface of inter-county football at the age of 41 just to sit on the bench, he replied: “I would have thought not, no. Knowing the man”.
There were other noteworthy developments, too. Paul Mannion and Paddy Small returned for Dublin, who, for all their second-half dominance, were poor in the first and haven’t quite found the killer inside them in front of goal.
They pressed high and aggressively and had a zeal in their tackling that echoed their win over Meath in Navan the previous weekend. Mostly, they gave the air of a team ramping up for the summer.
David O’Hanlon, the Dublin goalkeeper whose every move was suddenly scrutinised in microscopic detail, had another fine game, producing one stunning save and, generally, found his mark on kick-outs.
Who could say now whether he starts when the championship begins? Or next week, even?
Louth, meanwhile, have had a fine spring. From losing their first two games to Clare and Derry, they have swept most of what was in front of them and earned yesterday’s crack at Dublin, a shoot-out for promotion.
“That was a possibility when the game started,” acknowledged boss Mickey Harte. “We had to go after that possibility in the way that suited us best, and considering the players we were missing, we have to be happy with the performance we gave. By and large, we’re happy with what the players did.”
But you couldn’t get away from the day’s headline. Harte himself referenced it in his own press conference.
“Dublin are a work in progress as well,” he noted. “They have players coming back who maybe haven’t played much this season so far, and I saw a man’s name on the substitutes’ list that I’d rather he had stayed retired!”
SCORERS – Dublin: C Basquel 0-3; S Bugler, C Costello (1f)0-2 each; D Newcombe, J McCarthy, B Fenton, C O’Callaghan, K O’Gara, P Mannion, L O’Dell, P Small, D Rock (’45) 0-1 each. Louth: L Jackson 1-1; C Downey 0-3 (2f); D McConnon, J Califf (f) 0-1 each.
DUBLIN – D O’Hanlon 8; D Newcombe 8, D Byrne 7, M Fitzsimons 6; J Small 6, E Murchan 6, L Gannon 7; B Fenton 7, J McCarthy 7; C Basquel 7, C Kilkenny 6, S Bugler 7; C Costello 6, C O’Callaghan 6, K O’Gara 6. Subs: P Small 6 for O’Gara (25), T Lahiff 6 for Murchan (h-t), P Mannion 7 for Basquel (53), L O’Dell 6 for Costello (62), R McGarry 6 for Bugler (66), D Rock 7 for O’Callaghan (71).
LOUTH – J Califf 7; D Corcoran 6, P Lynch 6, D McKenny 5; L Grey 5, C Murphy 6, C McKeever 5; T Durnin 6, C Early 7; N Sharkey 6, L Jackson 7, C Grimes 6; D McConnon 5, C Downey 6, R Burns 6. Subs: C Lennon 6 for McKenny (44), T Jackson 5 for McKeever (44), C McCaul 6 for Burns (53), B Duffy 6 for Sharkey (56), J Hughes 6 for McConnon (56).
REF – P Faloon (Down)