Dublin’s All Ireland winning goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton has been left out of the end of year All Star team for the third consecutive year, something that is almost unprecedented in All Star history.
Statistically at the very least, he should have won an All Star over the past three years. Since the inception of the All Star awards in 1971, 19 of the 47 goalkeepers to win an All Star have been from All Ireland winning teams. That accounts for 40% of the awards, or slightly more than one in three goalkeepers.
Cluxton, however, has now been ignored for the third year running, despite winning All Irelands in each of those three years. Instead Kerry’s Brendan Kealy (2015) and Mayo’s David Clarke (2016 & 2017) have been selected.
Since the All Stars came into being there have been three teams who have won Sam Maguire three times in a row or more. The Kerry team of 1978-81 and of 1984-86 both had goalkeepers in at least one of the respective All Star teams, Dublin are the only three-in-a-row winning team to have none feature.
The Galway team that won three All Irelands between 1964-66 also had goalkeepers represented in the Cú Chulainn awards, a predecessor to the All Stars.
Many felt that Cluxton would take home an All Star this year after his exploits helped Dublin to a third All Ireland title in three years, seeing him become the first captain to lift Sam Maguire three times in-a-row since 1917.
Cluxton has been integral to the Dublin setup since his debut in 2002, but in recent years he has influenced Dublin’s style of play greatly, with many claiming that he has revolutionised the art of goalkeeping in football.
This year was no different. His kick outs were unerring and set the tempo of Dublin’s attack throughout the championship.
Over the course of the summer, the Parnells man kicked 118 kick outs, with 100 finding their man. Off all the kick outs Cluxton kicked within his own 45, not a single one found an opposition player; a statistic unparalleled throughout the country (although a chunk of these would have been short and uncontested).
The Dublin captain also managed to get the majority of his kick outs off within ten seconds of the ball going out of play. Such speed made it near impossible for teams to get into shape as Dublin began to mount attacks.
Shot stopping is often overlooked in an intercounty goalkeeper in the modern era because of the emphasis placed on their kicking ability, but Cluxton proved once again that he is not just there to find his teammates by making saves at crucial stages in Dublin’s campaign.
In the Leinster final, with the game still in the melting pot and Kildare on the charge midway through the second half, Cluxton pulled off a superb save to deny Daniel Flynn a certain goal that would have made the Leinster final a one score game.
In the All Ireland final Cluxton stood big as Kevin McLoughlin raced through on goal to deny him with a point blank save, with only a point separating the teams at the time. He even saved a Peter Harte penalty in the All Ireland semi final, although the game was well and truly over at the time.
In all, Cluxton only conceded two goals across six championship games; one against Mayo and one against Kildare deep into stoppage time when the game was petering out. Such statistics are unmatched by goalkeepers across the country.
Thus, there was mild surprise when Mayo’s David Clarke was given the nod for the number one spot in place of the Dublin net minder.
Clarke is without doubt an exceptional goalkeeper and made crucial saves throughout Mayo’s run to the final, but to say that he has been better than Cluxton over the past two seasons is difficult to agree with.
Clarke’s concession rate is far worse than Cluxton, and the Mayo man conceded eight goals across the 10 games Mayo played in 2017. Statistics don’t tell the whole story of course and Clarke was blameless for the most part in the concession of those goals (although he could have done better for Kerry’s second goal in the drawn semi-final).
However, it is in the kick out that there is a clear difference between both goalkeepers. Clarke has neither the accuracy or the speed to match Cluxton and is not nearly as assured at finding his own team mates.
People will point to Cluxton losing six kick outs in the first half of the All Ireland final as the reason why Clarke was given the nod in the All Stars, but this is merely Cluxton being a victim of his own success. His standards are so high that a few misplaced kick outs cause raised eyebrows.
Clarke, on the other hand, misplaced just as many kick outs in the All Ireland final as his counterpart, but this has never been highlighted purely because his standards are lower. Former Tyrone player and Sky GAA pundit Peter Canavan even went as far as saying that Clarke’s kick out directly, or indirectly, led to 1-7 of Kerry’s scores in the drawn semi-final.
More people will point to Dublin’s lack of competitive games as the reason that Cluxton didn’t get an All Star, but this is a recent folly of the All Star awards. Dublin had no competitive games for a reason; they are the best team in the country and they never fall victim to complacency.
Three of the teams they beat in their run to the All Ireland final will play Division One football next year and they beat them by a combined total of 33 points.
Mayo on the other hand, were ousted by Galway in the Connaught championship for the second year running and limped through the qualifiers against Clare, Derry and Cork (all second division teams) before luckily drawing with Roscommon in the quarter finals (another Division Two team). Only in the quarter final replay did Mayo begin to play well.
And yet there is a feeling that Mayo players should be rewarded because their mettle has been tested in tough matches, whereas Dublin have had it easy. The only reason their mettle was tested in those matches was because they performed poorly.
Dublin did not err against lesser teams and this is perhaps a reason as to why Cluxton didn’t get an All Star, even if he is part of the reason that Dublin kept up their ridiculous standards all year.
At the end of the day, however, a snub at the All Star awards will matter little to the Dublin netminder when he reflects on the year that saw Dublin win their fifth All Ireland in seven years.
By Shane O’Brien