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net loss I think we have seen the last of Stephen Cluxton and the lack of clarity is affecting the Dubs

"If you are serious about playing senior inter-county football and going for an All-Ireland medal, you do not play with your club during training time unless ordered to do so by your inter-county manager"

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Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton has been marked absent from Dessie Farrell's squad

Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton has been marked absent from Dessie Farrell's squad

Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton has been marked absent from Dessie Farrell's squad

It’s my personal opinion that Stephen Cluxton has played his last match for Dublin footballers.

It’s an opinion that I would hope is 100 per cent wrong, but I don’t think it is.

Why? Because if you are serious about playing senior inter-county football and going for an All-Ireland medal, you do not play with your club during training time unless ordered to do so by your inter-county manager.

Stephen plays outfield – centre half-back or midfield for Parnells – so he’s hardly doing that with boss Dessie Farrell’s blessing.

If Dublin win today, Dessie simply has to take ownership of the situation.

He has to prove me wrong by saying, “Stephen is back in full training and will be available for selection for the final”, or he has to say, “Stephen will not be with us for the rest of 2021.”

The manager has to be fair to Evan Comerford, the current Dublin goalkeeper, to the rest of the panel, and to himself, too.

Stephen is entitled to retire in any manner he wants. He’s an amateur sportsman and has signed no contract to do anything.

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Stephen Cluxton plays at half-back or in midfield for Parnells.

Stephen Cluxton plays at half-back or in midfield for Parnells.

Stephen Cluxton plays at half-back or in midfield for Parnells.

But Stephen’s absence, and the lack of clarity on his future, is now beginning to impact on the Dublin football squad, and Dessie has to sort it out.

Mind you, having written off the Leinster football championship here a couple of weeks ago, I now find myself admitting that, actually, Meath have a sniff of a chance of beating Dublin in the semi-final at Croke Park this afternoon.

Why? Well, Dublin delivered a stale performance against Wexford in the first round.

They scored just 0-15 in the match when we used to moan that Dublin won their first-round games by 25 points.

There was no such staleness in sight from Meath, who hockeyed Longford in their opener, scoring four goals.

The recent row in Meath football might have galvanised the Royals, too.

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It was sad to see a great player like Bernard Flynn, with his total enthusiasm for anything he does, walk away from managing the county’s Under-20s.

But if senior boss Andy McEntee insisted on having the U-20 players in his group, then he must believe something is in the offing.

If Andy believes in his heart that Dublin were going to win today’s match, he would have released the U-20s and there would have been no row.

Andy must have a sense that there is something brewing for Meath football this afternoon.

We all talk and reminisce about the Dublin-Meath rivalry back in the days when I was playing.

Well, it was a rivalry then, but it hasn’t been one since 2010.

Dublin have had their way with Meath all through the last decade – and that rivalry will not return until Meath actually start winning some of these matches.

Since winning the All-Ireland final of 2019 in a replay against Kerry, a whole raft of Dublin players have walked away.

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Evan Comerford has taken the place of Cluxton between the posts

Evan Comerford has taken the place of Cluxton between the posts

Evan Comerford has taken the place of Cluxton between the posts

Most of them, as well, lads in their 30s with bucketfuls of medals from their days in Sky Blue.

As one of them, Michael Darragh Macauley, said in his retirement words, ‘Sin é uaimse’ – ‘that’s it from me’.

But even though Dublin won the All-Ireland last year, they are now seriously skinny in the replacements area.

Where once there were experinced hands like MDMA, Bernard Brogan, Eoghan O’Gara or Cian O’Sullivan, there are now lads only looking to make their name.

Some of them have already done that this season with the likes of corner-back Seánie McMahon playing really well.

That said, it has to be acknowledged, too, that Cormac Costello has certainly taken his starting chance, racking up big scores.

However, that power, experience and impact that once was on the Dublin bench is no longer there.

From now on, the Dublin team that starts the match will be the 15 players who, by and large, will have to deliver.

You have to think that Dublin are going to be too strong for Meath today – it is hard to see how the Royals are going to close the 21-point gap that existed in last year’s Leinster final in just eight months of restricted action.

But I think this game is still going to be in the balance with, maybe, 20 minutes to go – before Dublin’s forwards get the scores they need and pull away.

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Dessie Farrell has left the door open.

Dessie Farrell has left the door open.

Dessie Farrell has left the door open.

As for the first Leinster semi-final this afternoon, I expect Kildare to win, but not before Westmeath give them a right old rattle.

For me, Westmeath were one of the unlucky teams in this year’s league.

They didn’t deserve to be relegated to Division Three, especially when you consider they lost two matches by just a point and ran both Mayo and Cork close.

They managed to score 0-25 against Cork – and still lost in the relegation play-off.

Manager Jack Cooney has them well organised and hard to beat.

In full-forward John Heslin, Westmeath have one of the best footballers in the country, a man who would be feted far and wide if he was a Dub or a Kerryman.

Yet, Kildare might just manage to get over the line. Manager Jack O’Connor has learned the lesson well of last year’s five-goal, second-half shambles against Meath in the Leinster semi-final.

The Lilies have a good defensive system in place and might just fall over the line here.

But with Westmeath keen to play on the break out of defence, too, this match might not be easy on the eye.

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