Just seconds after Dublin won their fifth All-Ireland in a row and seventh All-Ireland this decade. their captain and talisman Stephen Cluxton provided perhaps the most Cluxtonian moment of his vaunted career. It is an image that will be forever burnished in the memory of people who've watched Cluxton's career since 2001. As the Hill erupted in bedlam, his manager and coaches embraced and his teammates went bananas, Cluxton, moored in the mouth of the goal, calmly removed his bright yellow goalkeeping gloves and placed them in his black goalkeepers bag.
No shouting. No roaring. No jumping up and down like a lunatic. Nothing, basically, that the rest of us would have done.
Minutes later, Cluxton delivered his sixth All-Ireland winning speech. This speech was no different from others that he'd delivered this decade: less than Churchillian but thorough and dutiful (Cluxton hilariously thanked the GAA for organising the competition). In the dressing room after the match, there was Cluxton with a sweeping brush while his teammates pretended to rap.
Stephen Cluxton cleaning the changing room. What a gent, what a player, what a leader and what a role model. https://t.co/4r0ECuqH7B
— _johnball_11 (@11Johnball) September 15, 2019
It was fascinating to see how divisive Cluxton's subdued reaction to winning the 5-in-a-row was to many on social media. In the moments after Lane's fulltime whistle, Cluxton had essentially reached GAA's Everest and possibly played the final game in his vaunted 18-year career, and there was hardly a crack of emotion from the Dublin goalkeeper.
Is Stephen Cluxton a fucking robot?!! Final whistle blows and the man proceeds to put his gloves back in his bag with a face on him like he's at a wake. I've seen lads gone clothes shopping with their missus more excited.
— Rory O'Keeffe (@ro_keeffe) September 14, 2019
Petition to cut open Stephen Cluxton and see if he’s a FUCKING ROBOT. Smile you dry bastard. #DUBvKER
— Michael Codd (@michaelcodd1999) September 14, 2019
Yet perhaps we have again and again failed to understand what makes Stephen Cluxton so great, and so unique as a sportsman. In his clinical preparation and his ruthless control over the emotional side of his character, Cluxton has mastered a position which he turned into the most important one on the gaelic football pitch. Watch him barraged with complements by Marty Morrissey at the Dubs reception (1.00 min in below) and stumble for an answer. The man has no ego.
— The Sunday Game (@TheSundayGame) September 15, 2019
This chimes with the Cluxton we have always known. Hours after the GAA world was flattened with exhaustion from watching the incredibly tense Dublin-Kerry drawn All-Ireland, Cluxton, one of the key players in the match, went to the cinema with his wife. When Tomás Ó Sé handed him the match ball from the 2011 All-Ireland final, he booted it into the stands.
Cluxton began his intercounty career when pints were bought with punts. He has no social media presence that we know of. His values belong to a different era of Irish sport but they are worth celebrating.
Many of us are drawn to sport because it provides a conduit to experience intense emotion. So many great Irish sportspeople have figured out how to channel that well of emotion and use it as a life force. This is why Cluxton is such an anomaly. To our eyes, he seems to feel nothing. Perhaps it's harder for neutral fans to relate to Cluxton because he resists being emotive, but this self-control is one of the driving forces behind his relentless commitment to excellence in his roles as Dublin captain and goalkeeper. How else can we explain the longevity of his greatness?
One of the most intriguing comments to emerge from Dublin's victory was Jim Gavin discussing how much work Cluxton had done to improve his goalkeeping after the drawn match.
"Through that example he inspires people around him. He’s well able to talk, very articulate, but actions are what I’m interested in and that’s was Stephen Cluxton is all about - he’s a doer.
"I saw it the day after the replay, him spending two hours on the pitch with Evan Comerford and Michael Shields from Sylvester’s, the goalkeeping coach. The three of them working on trying to rectify his positioning for Killian Spillane’s goal in the first game.
The 37-year-old had famously saved a penalty and made an incredible fingertip save on Paul Geaney in that match, but there he was 24 hours after the drawn match, grinding.
And when Stephen O'Brien stormed down on goal in the 53rd minute, Cluxton was in the perfect position. Twenty-two minutes later Dublin were All-Ireland champions.
— The GAA (@officialgaa) September 14, 2019
In the debate over whether Cluxton owes the public more personality and emotion, an important point is lost. With his seventh All-Ireland medal in his goalkeeping bag, Cluxton has now entered the pantheon of the true greats of gaelic football and it's worth asking if he is the greatest player of all time. There is a long winter to debate the advantages that Dublin enjoy over the rest of the GAA world. But let's appreciate Stephen Cluxton's greatness for what it is before he retires.
What a performance & what a group of players & management. Many big moments in the game but save from Cluxton was huge. Should seal his long deserved footballer of the year award #DUBvKER
— Tomás Quinn (@mossyquinn) September 14, 2019