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Thursday 23 November 2017

Pivotal save a timely reminder that Cluxton is still the king

Seán Jordan, from Old Bawn in Tallaght, holds the Delaney Cup with Dublin duo Brian Fenton and Bernard Brogan
Seán Jordan, from Old Bawn in Tallaght, holds the Delaney Cup with Dublin duo Brian Fenton and Bernard Brogan
Dublin’s James McCarthy fires the ball to the net past Kildare goalkeeper Mark Donnellan

Sometimes we forget that Stephen Cluxton excels in what is classified the primary job-spec of a goalkeeper - goal prevention.

That's because, for quite a few lopsided games during Dublin's recent pomp, their skipper hasn't been asked to make any meaningful saves.

It's also because opponents and the media are so transfixed by his other towering sphere of influence - dictating the thrust of Dublin's forward assaults through his rapid and usually pinpoint restarts.

In the 42nd minute of yesterday's Leinster final, however, we got a timely reminder of why Cluxton is still the best in the business.

Timely because this was the day he equalled the all-time SFC appearance record of 88 games - a benchmark he will now share with Kerry brothers Tomás and Marc Ó Sé until Saturday, August 5.

On that day Cluxton will lead Dublin into All-Ireland quarter-final combat ... and claim the all-time record, staying ahead of Seán Cavanagh so long as the holders don't falter before Tyrone this summer.

Inviting

But enough of the record and back to that pivotal moment. David Slattery's latest slaloming run, cutting in from the Cusack Stand wing, was followed by an inviting pass into Daniel Flynn's path.

In an instant, the Kildare No 14 was through on goal, one on one with Cluxton.

A goal would have made it a three-point game and revived Kildare's flickering resistance after Dublin had landed three of the first four points after half-time.

In truth, Flynn should have hit the jackpot ... but his shot was at just the right height and it gave Cluxton a chance.

His cat-like reflexes did the rest: the shot was repelled and that was as close as the underdogs came to forcing Dublin into uncomfortable second half terrain.

From then on it was a matter of by how much? And all because Cluxton, the supreme professional dressed in amateur clothes, had been ready when called into action.

Afterwards his manager was asked to mark the occasion of Cluxton's record-emulating feat. "I think that's the word - influence," Jim Gavin remarked. "That's what good leadership is and that's what he brings to the football team. He's selfless, determined and very ambitious. He has a great passion for Gaelic games; he's a great credit to his family, to his club, Parnell's, and we are really lucky to have him in Dublin GAA. Really, really lucky.

Example

"His application and how he works at his game continuously is a great example, not only for the younger players in the squad but for the older members and for the management team as well."

Mayo's David Clarke may be the All Star incumbent - partly because he's such a brilliant shot-stopper and equally because he was afforded plenty of practice by his occasionally AWOL defence last summer.

But Cluxton has been busier between the posts this season, notably during the league, and responded with several noteworthy saves.

Even at 35, he shows no hint of dropping his standards. And even with Kevin Feely lording the midfield skies for much of this Leinster final, his kickout stats were hovering around the 75-80pc completion rate, losing just six.

It's no coincidence that all of Feely's four 'marks' were garnered off Mark Donnellan's restarts ... usually Cluxton managed to steer the ball away from the Kildare No 8's magnetic hands.

And no coincidence that Dublin, under his leadership, keep on winning.

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