Stephen Cluxton return steals show as Dublin secure routine win over Louth
Dublin 0-16 Louth 1-6
A game that may come to be remembered as a seminal moment in Dublin’s season, but not for anything that happened on the pitch.
Almost 20,000 people came to Croke Park today and inadvertently witnessed the return of Stephen Cluxton.
The game had been billed in advance as a clash between Dublin and perhaps Leinster’s second best team, Louth. Despite the final scoreline, that may well be the case.
But the game and how it was won will pass as a minor footnote in the unlikely story of the day.
How many people knew of Cluxton’s return before he stepped off the Dublin team bus is anyone’s guess - but there hadn’t been so much as a whisper of it in advance.
The initial reaction was disbelief at Cluxton’s presence in the Dublin warm-up in front of Hill 16, running through the pre-match drills with David O’Hanlon, the man whose position is under intense scrutiny now.
Cluxton played no active subsequent part in the day.
Not named in the programme, Cluxton wore number 16, and played a role he hasn’t done more than a handful of times in 20 years, that of an unused sub.
How long that arrangement lasts is now open to speculation.
Dublin, as expected, beat Louth today but no moment in the match sent the same sort of energy around Croke Park as the announcement of Gaelic football’s most successful captain as an addition to the bench.
In the 52nd minute, Paul Mannion also made his comeback. After a Division 2 campaign that can only be described as middling, their respective returns could have enormous ramifications for their All-Ireland bid.
On the pitch, Dublin were a muddle of different styles, none of which they played to a particularly high level, although their second half performance was a huge improvement on the first.
Louth, as they have all spring, made themselves extremely difficult to break down and tried to hit Dublin on the counter-attack.
At 0-5 to 0-3 after a lacklustre first-half, there was nothing certain about the second, but Dublin upped their game.
Collie Basquel kicked 0-3 from play. Seán Bugler brought a sprightly sort of energy to Dublin’s attacking play.
The returns of Mannion and Paddy Small, also playing his first game of the season, bode well but in-keeping with a theme in recent weeks, Dublin’s final ball wasn’t precise enough to create goals when they did manage to open Louth up.
They did, however, find more of a rhythm in the second half and kept Louth to one score, Liam Jackson’s goal, until injury-time.
The win gives Dublin another crack at the only team they’ve lost to this year, Derry, in next week’s Division 2 final. As for talking points from the day, that was well down the running order.
Dublin: C Basquel 0-3, S Bugler, C Costello (1f), 0-2 each, P Small, D Newcombe, J McCarthy, B Fenton, C O’Callaghan, K O’Gara, P Mannion, L O’Dell, 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; D Newcombe, D Byrne, M Fitzsimons; J Small, E Murchan, L Gannon; B Fenton, J McCarthy; C Basquel, C Kilkenny, S Bugler; C Costello, C O’Callaghan, K O’Gara. SubsL P Small for O’Gara (25), T Lahiff for Murchan (h-t), P Mannion for Basquel (53), O O’Dell for Costello (62), R McGarry for Bugler (66), D Rock for O’Callaghan (71)
LOUTH: J Califf; D Corcoran, P Lynch, D McKenny; L Grey, C Murphy, C McKeever; T Durnin, C Early; N Sharkey, L Jackson, C Grimes; D McConnon, C Downey, R Burns. Subs: C Lennon for McKenny (44), T Jackson for McKeever (44), C McCaul for Burns (53), B Duffy for Sharkey (56), J Hughes for McConnon (56)
REF: P Faloon (Down)