By PJ Cunningham
At Croke Park
Jim Gavin walks along as the only man to lead a GAA team – hurling or football – to the previously elusive five-in-a-row, but the Dublin supremo spent much of Saturday night humbly deflecting the credit for the elevation of his squad to sporting immortals to those around him.
In particular, he singled out his goalkeeper, Stephen Cluxton for the highest praise after he did the on-field leading for a fifth time in a row, and sixth in all up the Hogan Stand steps to collect Sam Maguire, following their 1-18 to 0-15 win replay over Kerry on Saturday evening.
Together with nine others, the Parnell’s custodian now has seven All-Ireland medals in his collection – and Saturday’s win was the one into the history books going back 135 years.
He may be 37 but his fitness is such that he could carry on until his 40th birthday at least – and judging by his brilliant save from Stephen O’Brien in the 54th minutes of the replay, his reflexes, if anything, seems to be getting better with age.
“He is a master of his craft,” said Gavin, who showed great prescience back in 2014 when he appointed Cluxton as his captain.
“He inspires people around him. He’s well able to talk, very articulate, but actions are what I’m interested in and that’s what Stephen Cluxton is all about – he’s a doer.”
And he praised his squad for the way they disposed of the Kerry challenge, albeit after a replay.
“When you beat a team like Kerry, that asked questions of guys over two days. They showed their character over the last two games, whatever questions were asked of them, and I am so happy for them.”
The manager admitted that achieving the five-in-a-row still hadn’t really registered in this thoughts.
“I haven’t really thought about it – that’s a fact. I’m not denying it and it’s great for the county, but our primary aim was to get a performance – and that’s not trying to dismiss it in any way.
“When you go into a game you have to get your game plan right and your process right, that’s what delivers a performance like that and that’s what brings the result.”
Kerry manager Peter Keane was philosophical at the outcome, while stating he was proud of how his charges had performed.
“We were there in the first half, we were chasing a bit at four points down at one stage, and then we got back level at half-time,” he said.
“The goal wasn’t part of the plan just after half-time and we worked our way back into it. We had our chances, but were always chasing it.
“If you concede a goal, it’s as good a time as any to do it because you have 40 minutes left to get it back. When we had our goal chance, we were three points down. We had chances,” he said matter-of-factly.”
Of the future, he went on: “This is a young team. We had 11 starting in an All-Ireland final for the first time in the drawn game and two more that came on, so that’s 13.
“In many ways it was great that we got another shot and another opportunity to build on that.”