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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Dub Sub Confidential: 'It's no wonder we don't f*****g win' - the day Stephen Cluxton blew a fuse at training

Jason Sherlock and Stephen Cluxton
Jason Sherlock and Stephen Cluxton

The first outfield lads on the pitch were always the same - Mossy, Vaughny and Keaney.

They spent the first twenty or thirty minutes going through kicking routines, slotting over point after point. They practised penalties and long-range shots. They practised shooting for goals against us.

It was no surprise that they were the ones who stood up and took responsibility during matches. They put in the extra effort and knew the commitment that was needed to be a success.

The other person who was out there was my nemesis, Mr Stephen Cluxton. More often than not he was first on the pitch. When I first joined the squad I thought I could make a good impression by being first out there.

Dedicated

What I didn't allow for was Clucko being more dedicated than anyone else. He was always there before me, slotting over balls from the 45. He would have a big bag of balls and would assiduously slot over ball after ball after ball. I couldn't believe how early he was arriving to be out, warmed up and already training.

So, as the season progressed, I arrived earlier and earlier until I would have to arrive almost two hours before training just to be able to get on to the pitch at the same time as him.

I loved every second of training and being on the Dubs panel was something I cherished, but I was hoping to be able to stand out by my sheer and immense commitment.

Clucko made that a very difficult proposition. It was as though he knew what my plan was and just kept raising the stakes.

************

I got my first glimpse of Clucko's notorious temper two weeks before the [2006] Leinster final against Offaly. Training that day began with a warm-up where the forwards, defenders, midfielders and keepers all broke up into small groups. The defenders went through some pretty heavy drills with Ski Wade marshalling them.

Two of the keepers would kick balls out to the midfielders. The third keeper would head over to a goal with the forwards, who would practise shots on goal.

The forwards essentially ran in towards the posts and tried to beat the keeper. It was a fairly simple and effective warm-up in my eyes: the attackers loosened up while getting their eye in. I was usually the keeper sent to do this exercise, and I loved it.

But it was a tough gig. The forwards would do a hand pass to each other and then shoot, close to the 14-yard line. No matter how much like Jorge Campos I was feeling, it was difficult to stop the shots. If the forward picked his spot and buried it low and hard across me, then it was a goal. Only the likes of Mossy and Jayo had the composure required to do this time after time.

They had that consistency and clinical attitude that made them deadly in front of goal.

On this evening the drill was exhausting. I saved a few but spent most of the time diving through the air saving sweet f**k all. The ground was bone hard and the sun was still high in the sky. Finally, Clarkey called a halt to the drill and put me out of my misery.

At least the morale would be good among the forwards, I thought. I jogged back over to our keepers' corner to begin our training session. Clucko was fuming. He was cursing under his breath and lashing footballs into the net.

"What's wrong, man?" I asked him.

"What's wrong, Len? That f*****g s***e is what's wrong."

I looked at Gary and Coper, and they raised their eyebrows a little and tried to seem a little angry too.

"What s***e?" I asked him again.

"That fucking s***e you were just doing. You think Colm Cooper is down in Kerry doing f*****g drills like that? You think he is running in to the 14-yard line and burying a ball past a keeper with no one trying to stop him?"

"I don't know, what's wrong with it?" I asked.

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"It's a load of b*****, Lenny, that's what it is. We bust our b***** over here, the defenders burst their arses over there and then the forwards prick around doing s***e like that?

"It's no wonder we don't f*****g win anything. I'm f*****g sick of it. How the f**k are we meant to progress with that kind of s***e?"

I didn't have an answer. I thought it was a tough drill on the keepers but a good one for the forwards. But when Clucko spoke, you listened. Gary stepped in and got us switched on to our own job.

"All right lads, quit the chattin' and let's get warmed up. Let's just focus on what we're doing and not on the forwards."

"It's a load of b*****, Gary, we're wasting our f*****g time."

"OK, OK, let's just focus on ourselves, all right?"

With that we began training hard. We went through our usual routines and we trained as professionals would train. We pushed ourselves on and I forgot all about the little blow-up.

But Clucko found it hard to let go. He fumed for most of the session and was still in a strop at the end.

As we all walked off the pitch back to the dressing room, he had a go at Jayo and a few of the other forwards. Alan Brogan laughed it off and said to me, "Lenny, what the f**k is wrong? Have a word with him, will ya?"

Intense

But I didn't have any words with Clucko; he was not a man to cross in moments like this. He took it personally that the forwards were not doing the same level of intense warm-up. I was a little taken aback by it, but I respected him for it.

He had standards and was not afraid to let people know about them.

He was the first to take it to management and make his opinion heard. He did not do it as an ego trip or as some kind of personal crusade, but as a means to push Dublin GAA on.

John Leonard's book Dub Sub Confidential is available now from Penguin Ireland, priced €13.99 Twitter: @soberpaddy

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