‘It shook the GAA world’ – Philly McMahon on Stephen Cluxton’s return and why he should start on Sunday

Stephen Cluxton made a shock return to the Dublin set-up last weekend. Image: Sportsfile.

Will Slattery

Philly McMahon says the return of Stephen Cluxton is ‘nothing but positive for Dublin’ and thinks the legendary goalkeeper should start the Division Two league final if manager Dessie Farrell plans on him being a key figure in this summer’s championship.

The eight-time All-Ireland champion was a shock inclusion on the Dublin bench for last Sunday’s league clash with Louth, which was Cluxton’s first inter-county involvement since captaining his county in the 2020 All-Ireland final.

Cluxton didn’t feature in the 2021 or 2022 seasons despite never officially announcing his retirement, and now appears to be back in the Dublin fold ahead of Sunday’s league final with Derry and this summer’s championship.

Since stepping away, Evan Comerford has been Dublin’s number one although he is currently sidelined through injury. Tyrone and Kerry have won All-Ireland titles in the last two years, with Dublin suffering back-to-back semi-final exits since Cluxton’s departure.

Speaking on The Throw-In, Independent.ie’s GAA podcast, Cluxton’s former Dublin team-mate Philly McMahon gave his verdict on the surprise news.

"It shook the GAA world," McMahon said.

"It's nothing but positive for Dublin. If he sits on the bench for the rest of the season, which probably won't be the case, they will still get an energy from him that would be massive.

“There isn't an inter-county team around who wouldn't bring Stephen Cluxton team back in."

"I would imagine he will ease himself into the changing room again," McMahon added.

"He isn't the kind of guy who will be loud and say, 'listen to me, I was the captain'. That's not who he is. He will build himself back into the environment. He would never stunt the growth of someone else's leadership.

"People out there might think Stephen Cluxton coming in could stunt some of these young players' leadership but I think it's the opposite, these guys will be looking to sponge off his knowledge.

“The benefit of him being in the changing room is immeasurable.”

The big question for Dublin manager Dessie Farrell now is whether Stephen Cluxton gets back into the starting team, with David O’Hanlon having performed well in the absence of Comerford during the National League.

McMahon says that if Farrell plans on Cluxton playing a key role in 2023, he should be back between the posts at Croke Park against Derry this Sunday.

"It would be very harsh on David O'Hanlon to be taken out of the team and for Stephen to go straight back in but when else does Dessie get the chance? Changing the goalkeeper during the championship is a difficult thing to do,” McMahon said.

"Do you play Stephen in the next game based on who he is? The risk is he underperforms and then what happens? It's a hard call for Dessie.

"If you are going to play Stephen Cluxton at all this season, you have to play him in the next game”.

"If my goal was to win an All-Ireland this year and not look at next year or the year after, Stephen Cluxton is playing against Derry for me," McMahon added.