herald

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Cluxton has made difference

TWO goalkeepers dominated the Gaelic football landscape of the noughties. Their place in the shot-stopping pantheon is recognised by a hat-trick of All Stars each.

But whereas Stephen Cluxton had won his first All Star award even before Diarmuid Murphy established himself on the Kerry team, the Dublin No 1 is still at the peak of his powers today … whereas the latter has been a former inter-county ’keeper for almost two years now.

Not that Murphy could stay away for long: this four-time All-Ireland winner is |now trying to engineer his first September triumph as a Kerry selector.

His was a relatively short but stellar career: the Dingle man was 28 before making his SFC debut in 2004, after spending three years as understudy to Declan O’Keeffe. He duly bowed out at the top, retiring in the warm winter afterglow of Kerry’s most recent All-Ireland success against Cork in 2009.

At the time, Murphy cited nagging back trouble as a factor but he continues to tog out for his club, Daingean Ui Chuis. “Last year I was playing with the club and really enjoyed myself,” he recounts.

Then, this time last year, his old boss came calling. When Jack O’Connor asked Murphy to become a selector, his initial reaction was positive. He took a few days to mull it over and his mind didn’t waver. “Your gut reaction is always the right thing, so I’m glad I did,” he enthuses.

He has found the transition thoroughly enjoyable and pretty intense, all at the same time. “Obviously, when you’re a player you’re just worried about your own performance,” he says, “but when you’re involved on the management side of it, there are 30 young fellas you’re worried about.”

As for switching off from the job, that |can be difficult when “the phone is a never-ending buzz”.

Even though his goalkeeping successor, Brendan Kealy, attracted some initial criti

cal flak, Murphy has no such qualms, praising the Kilcummin man for his shot-stopping excellence and accuracy off restarts.

“His first year on the team was his first year on the panel as well, so it’s rare to have some guy coming straight in off the street onto the Kerry team. It’s hard to make a change like that,” he points out.

“I thought last year he came into the team and did well, to be fair to him. This year I think he’s really kicked on from that.”

Still, most pundits would agree that the other No 1 on duty next Sunday is the |current king of ’keepers, albeit still uncrowned, as Stephen Cluxton makes his belated All-Ireland final baptism, a full decade after his 2001 SFC debut.

While Cluxton is perennially lauded for his cat-like reflexes, he is equally renowned for what he delivers with ball at feet: his ability to land kick-outs on a sixpence and now, more recently, his point-scoring prowess as Dublin’s deadball specialist from distance.

“Even since I stopped playing a couple of years ago, the kick-out is the big thing,” Murphy reflects.

“Restarting the game is almost an art in itself. The kicking tee coming in five or six years ago has given a greater flexibility to goalies and – especially at under-age level – it’s made a big difference.”

He adds: “You’re restarting the game; you have the possession so it’s up to you to keep it really. Maybe more so than kicking 50-50 balls 70 yards out the field, that seems to be the way football has gone – it’s for the better really.”

But what about all these ’keepers-turned-poachers – Cluxton especially? “His free-kicks have been a huge addition to Dublin this year. He kicked two points against Donegal that were vital to the outcome of the game. If you’ve got a guy who can do it, why not?” Murphy surmises.

Not that he was ever in line for such wandering interventions.

“No, no! I would have been fine to go down, but coming back up could have been serious!” he signs off with a laugh.

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