Sunday 19 August 2018

Dublin's quiet man let his feet do talking

Enigmatic 'keeper Cluxton keeps ice-cool demeanour even after kicking his team to epic Sam Maguire victory

HE'S Dublin's silent partner. The man whose deepest, darkest thoughts remain a mystery to anyone other than those close to him.

Perhaps the only player in Ireland who upon kicking the winning point in the All-Ireland final, would calmly turn around, trot back to his goalmouth and collect his gloves and gear in the back of his own net.

Today, he's the toast of Dublin. The impeccable shot-stopper who displayed nerves of concrete to seal possibly the sweetest All-Ireland Dublin have ever won.

The things we know about Stephen Cluxton are thus: he's one of the greatest goalkeepers to ever play Gaelic football. He doesn't do interviews.

Most other things remain private.

Yesterday though, we were given further indisputable proof that he has a pair of cajones on him like brass door-knockers.

"The man is unreal. He kicks frees non-stop. He's at training an hour before everyone else, kicking frees," gushed Dublin's other game-changer, Kevin McManamon. "I mean, you don't do that for any other reason than the last minute of the All-Ireland final and kicking the winner.

"The bloke is an absolute model footballer. I'm absolutely delighted that he got that chance to win it for us at the end."

Last year, when Dublin's attacking alignment panned out without a natural left-footed free-taker, Pat Gilroy handed his goalkeeper the responsibility of taking them from long range.

Some sneered, sniping that there HAD to be a better option that dragging your goalkeeper halfway up the pitch to take the frees. Cluxton, typically, took on his new task with a purpose which the best sports people tend to.

Gilroy, then, wasn't as worried as most other Dublin people when Cluxton ambled up to take that late thrilling kick.

Did the Dublin manager ever doubt his man?

"No," he responded. "Because he's hit about a million frees from there since he's been given the opportunity to kick them and that's the place he practices from. We'd all had great faith in him because taking a free like that wouldn't bother him or faze him."

Barry Cahill, too, felt the kick was a done deal as soon as McManamon won the free.

"It was a good angle for a left-footed kicker," he said. "I was focused on Stephen when he kicked it and I could see by his reaction that it was going over. I knew straight away."

Bernard Brogan, it seems, had even less doubt.

"I never had a shadow of a doubt that he was going to get that and it went over the black spot," he smiled. "He has got a great mental ability to kick that without any nerves. It shows his strength. He is an unbelievable talent and we are lucky to have him."

For his part, McManamon will long be remembered by Dublin fans for a somewhat epic contribution from the Dublin bench. After his dynamic cameo against Donegal in the semi-final and a fairly impressive early season performance, many in Dublin felt the St Jude's man warranted a a starting spot but the man himself took his impact sub role to a new dimension.



qualms

"It was a hard three weeks because we had so much going on with lads injured and suspensions, it was hard to know whether I would be in or out," he said.

"But I had no qualms about not starting that game, I was told the reasons. It was made quite clear why.

"It obviously worked out in the end. The lads wanted to go with a certain style. I have no problems with not starting."

And what of the goal, the moment which gave the blue part of Croke Park hope when just seconds previously, all such hopes seemed to be lost.

"I saw Alan running with it and drawing the man," he explained.

"I just thought 'listen, I'll take this tackle. If I get fouled, I get fouled and if I'm in ... ' Once it broke free, I just tried to keep it low.

"It's unreal," he added. "It's hard to comprehend at the minute. I'm just buzzing. It's a great feeling. I thought it was slipping away."

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