Saturday 22 October 2016

Stephen Cluxton will be back to usual top form for Mayo, warns coach

Dublin captain's former goalkeeping coach says he won't pay any heed to a shaky performance in last Sunday's draw

Stephen Cluxton, Dublin, is tackled by Aidan O'Shea, Mayo
Stephen Cluxton, Dublin, is tackled by Aidan O'Shea, Mayo

Few people, if any, have spent more time in the company of Stephen Cluxton on the training pitch than Gary Matthews.

For eight years crossing the managerial terms of both Paul Caffrey and Pat Gilroy he was the Dublin captain's coach specific to the tasks of goalkeeping and thus, he's as qualified as any in adjudging Cluxton's reaction to a most un-Cluxton performance in Croke Park last Sunday.

"He's confident in his own abilities and rightly so," Matthews told the Herald.

"If he felt, in his own mind, that he was a little bit off par, he'd be the first fella to say it. "That would be out of the ordinary (for Cluxton to have a bad game). It's not as if he's a struggling goalkeeper. Or that this was always going to happen and he was found out or something.

"That's not the case. It was a glitch."

The crushing physicality and gamesmanship, the vocally deafening and partisan crowd, the wild oscillation in the game's momentum ... it all contributed to a match that, at times, contained minimal rhyme and no discernible reason.

"The game was a very confusing game," Matthews points out. "There just seemed to be chaos everywhere. It led to a lot of players giving very confusing individual performances."

"He (Cluxton) was having a conversation with the referee (before throw-in).

"What I reckon he was clarifying with the referee (Joe McQuillan) is that he knew the rule about the kick-outs."


"I don't know what the conversation was but I wouldn't be surprised if it was along the lines 'listen Joe, I know he rule. He has to be outside the '21' but he can receive it inside.

"If he's outside he can move back in(side the '21', when ball is kicked out)."

"When I'm sitting there and I was listening to everyone screaming that it was a hop up because it didn't go outside the '21', I was thinking: 'this game is already confusing. Nobody knows the rulings'.

"So to me, you could even see with the hits that were going in straight away, that it was going to be chaos.

"That it was going to be off the norm.

"So many people weren't right. It descended into chaos, in my opinion."

Dean Rock's emergence and the knee operation Cluxton underwent in January meant he hasn't been a regular freetaker this year and his three second half misses can be largely attributable to this.

By the end, as Mayo's pressed right up on Cluxton's restarts, none of Michael Darragh Macauley, Brian Fenton or Denis Bastick were on the pitch, depriving him of a long, pressure-relieving option.

"You might go out with your tactics and say 'we're going to retain possession at all costs so we're going to go short and we're going to make sure we get it'," Matthews explains.

"If that means we have to travel the length of the pitch, so be it, at least we have the ball in our hands.

"In fairness, both teams actually started off to do that.

"Robbie (Hennelly) did the same and Mayo got retention from kick-outs.

"But there's a moment when a team starts getting on top of you and you think 'hang on, I'm going to have to throw a curve ball and upset the rhythm,' so you boom it out to a corner over towards a sideline or straight down the middle.

"And because the change in personnel in the midfield, it did take that option away."


Nor does Matthews expect much change in approach from either team with regard to kick-outs for Saturday's replay.

"They had their tactics right before they started. I'm looking at Stephen talking to the referee and then I see him going so short and I'm saying 'that's obviously a tactic'.

"I think Dublin knew well that they didn't need to put it into the zonal areas because Mayo would have learned from Kerry and had that boxed off.

"So retaining it from the back and working it up was their best option. And listen, doesn't every soccer team in the Premier League?

"Every kick-out goes to the left full or the right full and they'll work it up the pitch.

"Mayo were having great success going short and then the couple of times they went into midfield, they lost it.

"You could see it was going to be a lottery going into the middle.

"And neither team fancied going into that equation and said 'we'll take our chances with the ball in our hands.' It was a mad sort of game."

"But Stephen is one of these fellas, if he felt he had a bad performance, he wouldn't let it get to him," Matthews concludes. "He's a far, far stronger guy than that."

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