Cluxton's Dubs do what Cluxton's Dubs do best
All-Ireland Senior Football Championship final: Dublin 1-17 Mayo 1-16
COLD, unemotional, clinical – Stephen Cluxton embodies all the collective parts that make this Dublin team appear unstoppable.
When faced with the raging heat of do-or-die Championship moments, nobody handles them better. From Cluxton’s last-gasp Sam securing free in 2011, ending 16 years of hurt, to the ice that ran through Dean Rock’s veins yesterday, Jim Gavin’s men have been stared straight in the eye many times but never flinched.
They stick to what they do, and they keep on doing it.
Standing on the steps of the Hogan Stand yesterday, and facing the press deep in Croke Park shortly after, were the only moments when Cluxton felt outside of his comfort zone.
Gavin’s military precision in preparing his troops for battle is such that, once foot is set on sod, they feel in control.
“We had our homework done,” said the 35-year-old when asked if there were any nerves coming into the game.
“You don’t be nervous when you go into a game with your homework done. I’d be more nervous having to make the speech I suppose.”
“A win’s a win,” he continued, “you go into battle and you do your best.
“It could’ve gone either way today and you wouldn’t have begrudged Mayo victory. You just have to accept that what’s going to happen is going to happen.”
As one of the few remaining players who soldiered through the barren years while the Tyrones and Kerrys dominated the Noughties, Cluxton perhaps has a greater appreciation of what it means to win a fifth
All-Ireland title in seven years.
“Putting on the jersey, you appreciate every day you get to do that,” he continued.
“I get to play with players I hold in high regard, those that don’t have All-Ireland medals I hold in high regard. I’ve learned a lot from them, and from playing with different players.
“This group of lads really wants to win and that’s what we saw today. I’m just holding on to the jersey, I have to talk to this man here [Gavin] at the end of the year and see if he still wants me for next year.”
On completing a remarkable hat-trick of All-Ireland titles since 2015, Cluxton retained a typically detached outlook, adding: “There’s a lot of lads in that dressing room who haven’t three in-a-row, it’s their first – I’ve just been lucky enough to have been around the block a long time.
“I’ve watched these players come through and they’re an absolute privilege to play with. I’m just the person that collects the cup.”
For Mayo, the character and heart they continue to display in the face of huge disappointments has won them an army of followers and well-wishers, but still no Sam.
Twelve months ago, letting slip two bites at the cherry was tough to take.
“But you sense that the nature of yesterday’s harrowing one-point defeat, on a day when they gave everything they had again, cut even deeper still.
Paddy Durcan was the man who had put his hand up to face the media and it was clear he was still trying to process the pain when shepherded into a corner outside the Mayo dressing room.
“Disappointment,” he said when asked to sum up the mood in the westerner’s camp.
“We gave our best shot at it but, in fairness, you probably have to give credit to Dublin, they got over the line.
“There’s always small margins between the teams and today proved that again. We’re just bitterly disappointed to come out the wrong side of it but that’s life, we have to move forward.”