By PJ Cunningham
The All-Star awards normally signals the end of inter-county fare until the Spring and we got a nugget to talk about as Footballer of the Year, Stephen Cluxton at 38, threw out the possibility of retiring from netminding duties for Dublin after 17 years between the sticks.
More precisely, he said he would spend the coming weeks deliberating on whether he would go on or shuffle off into the sunset.
As he said on television, he has the heart and the will to continue but he has see if his body can hold up to the rigoour of top class preparation and playing as he edges ever closer to forty.
There has been the odd older person playing Gaelic footbal at this level but no one has ever been as influential in the game as the Parnells No 1 has been.
In collecting his sixth All-Star award, Cluxton also paradoxically highlighted how those selectors have shunned him when really he should be receiving his 10th award.
The problem he had was he didn’t talk to journalists and by not playing ball with them, his overall number of awards has been severely diminished.
Not so his reputation. He is now generally considered the most important element in the modern game where the emphasis is put on getting kick-outs away to teammates.
This year too, his shot stopping was of the highest order and in the last decade, I can’t ever remeber him having a bad game.
This is understandable when you consider something he shared with the television audience on Friday regarding his training schedule.
Any day he is with the Dubs, he gets to Parnell Park by 5pm and does his individual session with a personal trainer before taking part in the Dublin squad session from 7pm on.
The fact that he normally eschews headlines or any sort or spotlight made his decision to share these moments as seminal during his time with Dublin.
Does it signal that he is inclined to pass on the baton and hang up his boots at this level?
Certainly it is unusual for him to let anything about his personal or playing lifestyle into the public domain.
What he said on the night also shows how high he has positioned the bar for those coming after him with the sort of dedication that eat up several hours in his day.
The CEO of the GPA, Paul Flynn, a Dub and former colleague of Cluxton also lifted the veil of secrecy on the skipper by explaining the way he continues to seek perfection in kicking out or in taking frees, as was his responsibility when his late score beat Kerry in the 2011 final.
Suit Up! 🌟
— PwC Ireland (@PwCIreland) November 1, 2019
He has now skippered the Dubs to six Sam Maguire wins, played in 14 Leinster Final and has seven Celtic Crosses to his name. What is the reason to go on? Probably the same reason he drove himself so hard up to now – because he enjoys it.
However, he has found it slower coming back from injuries and his own acknowledgement that his body will decide will be at the core of his announcement.
He has probably been worth an extra three or four points to Dublin because of the accuracy of his kickouts leading to scores up the other end of the pitch.
I’d go so far as to say that managers and players alike from such counties as Mayo, Kerry, Donegal and Tyrone would approach training for the 2020 championship with a lot more confidence that Dublin could be brought down before a six-in-a-row is achieved is Cluxton’s decision was to retire.
In fairnes, I have to say I was very impressed with his deputy, Evan Comerford, when he played in the league this year. He is a good goalkeeper and crucially doesn’t seem overawed when stepping in to fill Cluxton’s boots.
What may work in his favour is the fact that Cluxton’s legendary status is now so high by winning the Footballer of the Year award on top of all the other achievements that staying on could endanger his reputation if hindsight showed he actually stayed on to long.
My guess though is he will take that risk and young Comerford will have to kick his heels in the dugout for another 12 months as the lure of six keeps the greatest goalkeeper of all time chasing the dreams one more time.
Callanan Top Hurler after goal-fest year
Of course you could make a case, and a very strong one at that, for TJ Reid, the Kilkenny scoring machine or indeed Patrick Horgan, the Cork scorer in chief as being very worthy hurlers of the year.
But that would be in an ordinary year and not one like we just had when Tipperary’s Seamus Callanan not only led the Premier to Liam MacCarthy glory but scored by scoring a goal in every round of the championship.
He managed a total tally of 8-17 from play this year and seems likely to rewrite the record books when it coms to goals and hurling.
For the record, Adrian Mullen, Kilkenny and Sean O’Shea Kerry picked up the young hurler and football of the year awards respectively.
Gaels can put it up to Rossies
Good luck to Tir Chonail Gaels as they face a Pat Flanagan coached Padraig Pearses team from Roscommon in Sunday’s Connacht SF club semi-final in Ruislip on Sunday.
Flanagan is one of the most astute coaches and will not take the exiles for granted.
A good start will be half the battle though if Gaels are to blow up a storm and cause a sensation similar to St Mullins shock win over Cuala in the Leinster SH club game last Sunday.