Each year Stephen Cluxton misses out on an All-Star, his omission is often the most notable or controversial in the end-of-season awards.
Of course, from what we discern about the notoriously-private Cluxton, it is unlikely he loses a wink of sleep over missing out on personal gongs.
Dubs dominate All-Stars with nine players included
Nonetheless, his absence from the team of the year stirs debate.
Cavan’s Raymond Galligan is the latest shot-stopper to pip the Parnells clubman to the post.
The Breffni captain had a fine championship campaign. His dramatic late winner to stun Monaghan in the opening round of Ulster set the tone, as his leadership and solidity between the sticks helped Mickey Graham’s side to a historic provincial triumph. Facing the Dublin press in the All-Ireland semi-final, Galligan found Cavan players 22 times from 32 kick-outs.
Few would begrudge him the award.
2020 All-Star team
Raymond Galligan (Cavan); Oisín Mullin (Mayo), Pádraig Faulkner (Cavan), Michael Fitzsimons (Dublin); James McCarthy (Dublin), John Small (Dublin), Eoin Murchan (Dublin); Brian Fenton (Dublin), Thomas Galligan (Cavan); Niall Scully (Dublin), Ciarán Kilkenny (Dublin), Con O’Callaghan (Dublin); Cillian O’Connor (Mayo), Conor Sweeney (Tipperary), Dean Rock (Dublin).
The case for Cluxton
Cluxton meanwhile, was understatedly brilliant throughout. Remarkably he went through the entire run to the All-Ireland title without conceding a single goal.
His restarts were up to his usual high standards. Against Meath in the Leinster final, Dublin won 12 out of their 15 kick-outs. That improved to 17/19 in the All-Ireland semi-final.
In the first half of the decider, Mayo made inroads on Cluxton’s long kick-outs, but he stuck to his guns after the break, targeting Brian Howard and Brian Fenton in particular. He recovered to a 11/18 success rate for the match, as Dublin won by five points.
Given his assured demeanour under high balls, it was a calming presence at the back.
It must be noted that the five clean sheets were equally attributable to the defenders in front of him, and Cluxton was not forced to make any eye-catching saves akin to 2019 when he was named Footballer of the Year.
However, his consistency was a crucial foundation for the Sky Blues’ All-Ireland defence.
Is he judged by a higher standard?
The Dubs netminder is widely considered one of the most influential players to ever grace a Gaelic football field.
Having conceded just 64 goals in his 111 championship games since his debut against Longford in 2001, he has established himself as undoubtedly the greatest to ever to play the position.
Across those 20 years, he revolutionised the role. He has led the way as goalkeepers’ distribution has become a key part of the sport. The manner in which he pulls the strings in a quarterback-like fashion for Dublin has seen him become the most central figure to Dublin’s success over the last decade.
As a result, are his talents now taken for granted when it comes to the awards-season?
Had any other ‘keeper in Ireland gone through five games without the concession of a green flag, coupled with such accuracy from the restart tee, would they have won an All-Star?
Cluxton sits joint-fourth in the all-time roll of honour when it comes to All-Stars, with six awards. Only Pat Spillane (9), Colm Cooper (8) and Mikey Sheehy (7) boast more honours.
At 39, there has been little indication that retirement is on his mind, and Cluxton is showing no signs of slowing. Perhaps he may reel in some, or all, of those Kerry greats in the coming years.
But focusing on legacy and career achievements is irrelevant when it comes to the 2020 All-Stars – the conversation fixates solely on performances across one season.
The Dublin custodian barely put a foot wrong across the 350-plus minutes of championship action during the winter months.
It was a tight call between Galligan and Cluxton this year, one which the Lacken club man edged.
But given the Dubliner’s consistency over the last decade, getting nine nominations in 10 years, there is every chance he will scoop a seventh All-Star should he play on in 2021.
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