There is, Brian Howard insists, more than enough credit in the bank when it comes to Stephen Cluxton.
He stresses that he’s no more clear on whether the Parnells great will ever be back in a Dublin jersey than anyone.
And whether he decides to go again, or even just continues to leave people guessing, then he’s more than earned that right.
“I’m privileged enough to have been able to play with him for the last couple of years,” Howard said, as Dublin launched their new alternate jersey.
“Whatever decision Stephen makes, whether he comes back, whether he retires, it’s completely up to him and to management to make that decision.
“As players, we knew last year (2021) what the challenge was in front of us and thankfully the goalkeepers that we have now, Dave O’Hanlon, Michael Shiel, Evan Comerford, they’ve learned from Stephen Cluxton and learned all his good traits and thankfully last year had an amazing year.
"They’re just progressing on, they’ve learned from the best, Stephen is the best goalkeeper in my opinion to ever play and has changed the game.
“One of the best players to ever play the game and thankfully we’ve all had the opportunity to play under him and play with him more so and to know him as a person because he’s an absolutely amazing person so whatever decision he makes is completely up to him.”
It’s been a strange sort of winter for the Dublin footballers, to follow on from a strange sort of year. No All-Ireland title, no trips with Sam around the schools and clubs. Instead they’re in the unfamiliar position of having wounds to lick and looking at the embers of a season that went down in flames.
There’s been no official debrief since that defeat to Mayo. Howard recalls simply two “very good” quarters followed by two “uncharacteristic” ones. Dublin had been stuttering for much of the championship.
In hindsight, there was plenty of evidence that their run was finally coming to an end. But Howard rejects the notion that it’s the start of an inevitable slide.
“Ah look, from the outside there’s going to be a lot of external opinions and people are entitled to their own opinions.
"Naturally, when you have what could be a six-, seven-time All-Ireland winner, a couple of All-Stars, when those sorts of individuals leave the panel there’s naturally going to be a narrative out there that Dublin aren’t as strong as they have been in the past.
"I know that was the narrative but you look at some of the amazing young players that are up and coming. Because they mightn’t be the household names, the likes of . . . Bernard Brogan, that have changed football with their performances and their style of play, just because they mightn’t be those type of names, it doesn’t mean they are in no way, shape or form as good as them.
“We’re all, as a team, we’re as strong as ever. There are new players coming in that are finding their feet. My first year I didn’t play. Con O’Callaghan, Eoin Murchan, Collie Basquel, you’re not going to just walk into a Dublin senior football team straight from U-21s when you come up and be like, ‘Okay, I want that spot, I expect to start’. You learn from all the lads.”
Back in the chasing pack after years of being top dog, all that’s left is for Dublin to go again.
“I think that has to be the mindset. We haven’t met up as a group, that will be early January or whenever it may be. I can only speak from my opinion and my ideas that we are ready to go. We are going to make sure that that doesn’t happen again, and hopefully going forward into next year we will learn from it.”