Kerry and Dublin, the much anticipated tussle. For a while it was anti climatic. With the game in the melting pot and the last blast of the whistling drawing ever and inevitably nearer, it was anything but. Kerry downed, the Dubs crowned. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.
2011, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and now 2023. Cloud nine, nine All-Ireland titles. It takes a bit of thought to absorb something so absurd, so irregular. It is quite simply a staggering achievement.
The Twin Towers were still standing when Stephen Cluxton made his Dublin debut. He played a full decade before the roll of honour included Sam Maguire. For many, that one quantifies success.
If you take Dublin away from Cluxton and analyse him as a middle aged school teacher, he would probably seem quite normal. Maybe Gaelic football brings it out in him or maybe it’s ever present, but there’s some sort of madness in the man. There always is with the greats.
We’ve been given 22 years to ponder over a character and still none of us have a clue. The stepping away, retirement questions, and return caused such consternation. It seemed so indecisive and loose, the opposite of what he has made a career out of doing.
The things you’d do to be a fly on the wall when he first spoke to Dessie Farrell about the U-turn. At the time, it wouldn’t have been so outrageous for Farrell to say no. David O’Hanlon was having an exceptional league, Evan Comerford was on the comeback trail.
You would wonder how that pair felt as Cluxton lifted Sam aloft. Human nature would be inclined to smile, and cover the selfishness inside. O’Hanlon wasn’t even on the bench yesterday. Comerford surely thought his days as an understudy were done. But Dessie Farrell clearly managed the situation terrifically. 2024 throws up another conundrum. Cluxton might even be back. If we’ve learned anything, all bets are off. The man can still play ball.
For Mick Fitzsimons, the same line of questioning will likely follow. External, internal, should I stay or should I go? The fullback has aged like a fine wine in an era where the game is that of a young man. At 35 or 36, no one on this Earth should be able to lay a glove on David Clifford.
Fitzsimons did that and more. Way more. In fact, he excels at everything that he shouldn’t. He relies on acceleration, balance, change of direction, dynamism. Each of those are difficult to attain and nigh on impossible to maintain in your mid thirties. Dublin’s fullback must live an insane life of commitment.
With a ninth medal, you might say it’s all worth it. James McCarthy is another 2011 Trojan. He is perhaps still the best midfielder in the country at 34. Brian Fenton has such grace, skill, and natural ability, but no one owns the middle third like McCarthy. He is the true definition of a warrior. Even the teams that play the nicest football need to win the dirty ball first. Rampaging round the middle, with Brian Howard and Fenton in tow, the skipper is a thorn between two roses, and that suits him just fine.
He’s got the dog in him. Nice guys win nothing. Whenever and wherever James McCarthy goes, other men follow. That is the true mark of a leader. He is the guy you want to see picking you up off the ground when your body tells you it can go no more. You don’t win the biggest prize with fuel left in the tank. On Sunday, McCarthy emptied himself again. He always does.
Himself, Cluxton, and Fitzsimons are now the Holy Trinity. And it all feels very worrying for the rest of us. There was something so very Dublin about the weekend. The ties go back to 12 years ago, where it all began and has hardly stopped since.
The Lee Gannons and Colm Basquels of this world will no longer be examples of men that separate the Jim Gavin and Dessie Farrell tenures. Now they’re all just one, with the common denominator of glory.
Where there are winners, there are losers. You’d wonder how many times Seán Ó Shéa’s winning free was viewed as fuel in the capital last week. Ó Shéa, it feels, has yet to fully back up his reputation.
An incredible free taker, a wand of a right foot, an exceptional talent? Yes. A marquee forward? No. Well, not right now. The likes of Con O’Callaghan and Darren McCurry have shown true match winning grit, from play, on the biggest day. That is now the challenge.
Most of the flak will fall at the feet of David Clifford. It would have been a difficult week for the Fossa man. His goal assist would have been one of the ultimate All-Ireland final moments. Instead it’s buried. To say it’s now meaningless would be harsh. It would also be true.
It also serves as a reminder that no one is untouchable. Lining out with his brother Paudie in January and tasting Junior All-Ireland success with Fossa surely had all the hallmarks of what could possibly be the greatest year of his career.
This week he is portrayed by some as the man who cost Kerry the All-Ireland. The poisonous commentary on social media must be hard to ignore, the nobodies talking like a somebody. David Clifford is a somebody, and he will be back better than ever. That is a fact.
For himself and Paudie, 2023 will be remembered as a year of loss. It was only a matter of months ago that the Cliffords lost their mother Ellen. How proud she must be of her boys.
The season that began with talk of Dublin and Kerry ends that way too. In those dying embers, the boys in blue look like a machine once again. Sam is back. Sure he hardly ever left.
It doesn’t feel like the end of anything, rather a renaissance. Rumour has it Stephen Cluxton reckons double digits would be nice…