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Pat Spillane: Stephen Cluxton’s return to the Dublin squad is a joke

GAA schedule of league finals shows a real lack of common sense from HQ

Stephen Cluxton in the warm-up to the Louth game after his return to the Dublin squad . Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Veteran Conor McManus played a big part in keeping Monaghan in the top flight. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

A fatigued David Clifford hasn't always been at his best for Kerry during the league. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

26 March 2023; Dublin substitute Stephen Cluxton before the Allianz Football League Division 2 match between Dublin and Louth at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Pat SpillaneSunday World

I imagine I wasn’t alone in thinking it was April Fool’s Day when news filtered through from Croke Park last Sunday that Stephen Cluxton was in the Dublin squad.

I know he is a superb leader and goalkeepers can operate well into their 40s these days.

I know, too, this could be the most open All-Ireland Championship since 2010. So, it’s all about marginal gains.

But I don’t see why Cluxton couldn’t just be added to the management team, where his expertise would be invaluable.

Why embarrass the current goalkeepers Shane O’Hanlon and Evan Comerford – even if the latter is injured – by suddenly parachuting Cluxton back into the squad.

And what kind of message is his return sending out to all the young goalkeepers who dream of making it into the Dublin squad?

This could come back to haunt me before the end of the summer, but right now I regard Cluxton’s return as a joke.

It never ceases to amaze me how GAA top brass still bask in the reflected glory of the split season. They remind me of the cat who got the cream.

May I remind them that down at the coalface everything is not so rosy.

For example, the Clifford brothers from Fossa and the Kelly siblings from Moycullen haven’t had a decent break from football since early January of LAST year.

There are now too many matches being crammed into much too tight a time frame.

Due to the new schedule any intensive training sessions have to be held mid-week.

This involves hundreds of players criss-crossing the country to go to these sessions. They don’t get home until the early hours of the next morning. Player welfare, how are you?

Take Sligo and Mayo, for example.

Sligo featured in the Division 4 final in Croke Park last night.

There will be no time for celebrations as their Connacht Championship game against London in Ruislip is scheduled for next Saturday.

It could have been worse. Had Leitrim got to the final they would have spent the weekend in Dublin, and then two nights back in Leitrim, before heading off to New York for their Connacht quarter-final in Gaelic Park next Sunday.

May I pose a simple question: does anybody in Croke Park have an ounce of common sense anymore?

Take this weekend’s League finals.

The Division 1 and Division 4 finals should have been played yesterday. Three Connacht teams (Mayo, Galway and Sligo) were involved – and it would have allowed Mayo an extra day to recover ahead of their Connacht Championship game against Roscommon next Sunday.

This afternoon the Division 2 and 3 finals could have been played.

There would have been three Ulster teams on the bill with the Dubs, all of which would have bumped up the attendance.

Veteran Conor McManus played a big part in keeping Monaghan in the top flight. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Last Sunday’s final round of the League was unsatisfactory in terms of fairness.

Mayo fielded a weakened team against Monaghan (they made 11 changes), which was well within their rights.

But it handed Monaghan an unfair advantage, over Armagh in particular as they had to face a full-strength Tyrone side.

Monaghan, deservedly, have copyright on the moniker of being the Harry Houdini’s of Gaelic football.

I rated them the worst Division 1 team I ever saw when Kerry beat them by 11 points in Killarney.

So how they did survive?

It had nothing to do with systems, processes or plus ones.

It was all about character and a never-say-die attitude, which they have in abundance.

On a practical level the return of two 30-something servants – Darren Hughes who excelled as their sweeper, and Conor McManus who scored 1-7 – was crucial.

Can we expect a bounce from them in the Championship? I don’t think so – they are the quintessential ‘winter’ football team.

I tipped Armagh to win the League which didn’t work out well. I am reminded of the joke about a camel being a horse designed by a committee. Well, there is an element of that about Armagh.

Their decision to ditch their kicking/attacking plan was an unmitigated disaster.

There were too many sideline ‘cooks’ who spoiled the broth, in the sense that they weren’t sure what kind of game plan to pursue.

We shouldn’t kick Donegal when they’re down.

Maybe the fault lies with the county board and the team management. But it is the players who are responsible for delivering success on the field.

In this campaign the Donegal players abdicated their responsibilities by showing absolutely no pride in the jersey. That’s the reason why they were relegated.

A special word for Roscommon, who punch above their weight a lot of the time.

Granted they are blessed with having natural-scoring forwards, but they are one of the few counties who actually play to their strengths.

Twenty of the 21 points they scored against Donegal came from play, and they had 11 scorers.

Memo to other coaches: how about playing to your team’s strengths, as Roscommon do.

I still think Tyrone are an ordinary team, even though they survived.

Unless they discover their mojo quickly I don’t see them being serious contenders for the All-Ireland.

A fatigued David Clifford hasn't always been at his best for Kerry during the league. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

And this leads me to Kerry.

Even though they failed to win any of their four away games, I’m not writing them off – by any means.

They are heading to Portugal shortly for a week of warm-weather training – and maybe they will return rejuvenated.

Right now there are a lot red flags. They haven’t found much in the way of new talent.

They are too dependent on David Clifford. When he has a bad day – and he has had a few this spring – they struggle.

What’s worse is their approach play into Clifford has become too predictable. It’s all being directed into the right corner, which gives him a huge amount of work to do.

Seanie O’Shea is also struggling to find his form – he has scored one point from play in Kerry’s last four matches.

There is too much recycling, lateral play, and an inability to penetrate blanket defences.

No goals were scored against Galway, Armagh or Donegal. Only two starting forwards – Paudie Clifford and Seanie O’Shea – scored from play (one point each) in Galway.

As I have written here previously, my real worry for Kerry now is that opponents have studied their method of play.

They are working out Tadgh Morley’s role, taking him away from his sweeping duties or putting the ball over his head.

The players who are given the job of marking David Clifford and Seanie O’Shea go forward at every opportunity, knowing that the pair don’t have the pace or the inclination to follow them.

They are lucky to have four weeks before their Championship begins.

One of the best matches I witnessed last year was the Sligo v Leitrim Tailteann Cup quarter-final.

The pair served up another cracker in Carrick-on-Shannon last Sunday before a packed attendance.

I still buy two daily papers on a Monday. One of the papers had no report, the other carried a report so short that it could have been written on the back of a postage stamp – and it had the wrong scorers.

All I can say is that when you operate off Broadway in the GAA, you are really forgotten about.

Finally, I was inundated with reaction about last Sunday’s article in relation to the state of Gaelic football. And there wasn’t a negative comment from anybody.

So, I wonder whose right about the state of the game; yours truly or the experts.

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