Stephen Cluxton returns to Dublin squad for NFL Division 2 clash with Louth

Stephen Cluxton is pictured as part of the Dublin squad for the Allianz Football League Division 2 match against Louth at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Conor McKeon

Stephen Cluxton has made a sensational return to the Dublin senior football panel.

To the shock of everyone in Croke Park today, the legendary former captain was a late addition to their bench for today’s Division 2 game against Louth.

By the time his name was read out in Croke Park, just before throw-on, the Dublin fans on Hill 16 had already identified Cluxton, but his name confirmed it and was greeted with a cheer few substitute goalkeepers will have experienced at GAA HQ.

We need your consent to load this Social Media content. We use a number of different Social Media outlets to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity.

By then, word had already fizzed around the stadium of the unexpected addition to the Dublin squad, even if there was an understandable degree of scepticism to the breaking news.

Paddy Andrews, who won six All-Irelands with Cluxton, was in the press box in his capacity OffTheBall and appeared to be taken totally unawares by the development.

Cluxton’s return was teased by the official Dublin GAA Twitter channel, who posted a video of the squad emerging from the dressing-room, with the cryptic message: ‘a few familiar faces back in the panel today.’

The suspicion was that Jack McCaffrey or Paul Mannion, not listed among the subs, were present. Nobody, but nobody suspected that it was Cluxton.

The Dublin panel is a tightly-run operation with regards to leaks but even still, keeping the return of perhaps the most influential player in the county’s history under wraps is a impressive achievement in itself.

There hadn’t been so much as a whisper on the wind of a possible comeback.

Cluxton, now 41, hasn’t played for Dublin since the 2020 All-Ireland final, when he lifted Sam Maguire for a record seventh time as captain, winning his eighth medal.

The manner of his departure left plenty of unanswered questions.

Footballer of the Year in 2019, his exit was never confirmed in 2021, with Farrell leaving the door open for a comeback right up until the start of the championship.

The Dublin manager did, however, confirm that Cluxton would not be returning in 2022 after the first match of last year’s League.

Since then , Evan Comerford has nailed down the number one jersey but an injury has kept him out of action for all of this year’s league.

Speaking after last week’s victory over Meath in Navan, Farrell confirmed that Comerford would miss the rest of the campaign but expressed hope that he would return in time for the championship.

In Comerford’s absence, Na Fianna goalkeeper David O’Hanlon started all seven of Dublin’s Division 2 games, including today’s against Louth and generally, acquitted himself well.

So much so that it was justified to call O’Hanlon Dublin’s number one goalkeeper. With today’s extraordinary development, the question may be: for how long?