THE exclusive Dublin Goalkeepers’ Club is now in existence for 48 years and comprises just three members – Paddy Cullen, John O’Leary and Stephen Cluxton.

Between them they have served the Blues for a combined total of 45 championship campaigns, and at ‘only’ 33, Cluxton is young enough to break O’Leary’s long service record of 18 seasons between the posts.

Who says so? None other than O’Leary and Paul Curran, who were selector and player respectively on the day Cluxton made his senior championship debut against Longford on May 27, 2001.

“He can knock another four or five years out of it if he keeps the attitude going, stays fit and has a little bit of luck.

“I played until I was 36, and Stephen could easily go another three or four years. Dublin have a really good squad of players there. It’s very hard to walk away from that.

“When he’s playing well, why would he leave, unless he’s lost the real love of it and he wants to go off and do something else,” said O’Leary.

Curran, who played centre-back on Cluxton’s debut, agreed.

“Stephen could realistically play another five years if he wanted to. He could break John’s time record,” he said.

Funnily enough, O’Leary, who retired in 1997 with a record of 70 consecutive championship appearances, almost caused Cluxton’s debut to be delayed.

O’Leary had a dual role that year as a selector with senior team boss Tommy Carr, and also with the Dublin U-21s, as did Richie Crean.

Cluxton was the U-21 team’s keeper, and prior to that senior championship match with Longford in 2001, regular keeper Davy Byrne had an injury which caused some pre-match concern for the management team.

Carr toyed with the idea of a surprise call back to duty for O’Leary, who had played very little competitive football, but was ready to give it a go if required.

“It wasn’t publicised. I was named as sub keeper in that match because Davy was injured, but we knew Stephen had the right attitude from the U-21 team and that he could handle the occasion, so we were happy to give him his debut,” said O’Leary.

Curran had no complaints about the rookie keeper’s performance against Longford and in the subsequent Leinster semi-final win over Offaly.

In fact, he thought the kid had done enough to merit staying in the side for the decider in which Dublin faced the oul’ enemy Meath. With Byrne fit again, the manager and selectors opted for experience and Cluxton was among the subs as the Royals carved out a victory by 2-11 to 0-14.

The following season Cluxton was the No 1, this time under Tommy Lyons’ management, and the rest is history.

Paddy Cullen, the elder statesman of the DGC – Dublin Goalkeepers’ Club – first played championship for the Dubs in 1967, and kept the No 1 jersey for 13 seasons until his retirement in 1979.

Cullen’s verdict of Cluxton?

“He’s a super custodian, and his kicking, both from kick outs and at goal is impeccable.

“I’m glad that he’s carrying on this year. If he had retired, it would be calamitous because he’s so important to the team,” said the three-time All-Ireland medal winner.

John O’Leary came on board for his debut against Offaly in July 1980, and went on to make a phenomenal contribution to the Dubs.

Byrne, then of Ballymun Kickhams, deserves honourable mention as he bridged the gap between O’Leary and Cluxton before retiring in 2002.

Curran, who played for over 12 years with O’Leary, reckons that Dublin have been blessed with the quality of keepers in the county.

“The longevity is remarkable because there were a lot of very good club goalkeepers in Dublin who never really got a chance because that position was rock solid in the team.

“You can go back to the ’60s and ’70s with Paddy Cullen, then John, then you had Davy Byrne for a period, then Stephen, so it’s been a remarkable 40-plus years for Dublin goalkeeping. It’s incredible, absolutely incredible,” said Curran.

Cluxton would have to play four more campaigns, including 2015, before matching the 18 seasons of O’Leary, but he is now one ahead in total championship appearances on 71 compared with O’Leary’s 70.

Jim Gavin, who was also in the Dublin team that day back in 2001 when Cluxton first played for the Dubs, will only be concerned to have the goalkeeper available and in his usual impeccable form for the forthcoming League and Championship, and no doubt, that is Cluxton’s only concern as well.

Whenever the day comes to call it quits, Paul Curran believes that only then will the true measure of Cluxton be fully appreciated.

“I finished in 2002, so Stephen’s first year was my last year. I played for 12 or 13 years with John O’Leary.

” I thought there was never going to be anyone like John O’Leary but this guy has raised the bar even further, and brought a new dimension to goalkeeping,” said Curran.
Image Credit: Sportsfile


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