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blue moon rising Ten years ago, the sky-blue dream was kick-started by Stephen Cluxton

A decade of Dublin glory began with that magic moment when Stephen Cluxton struck

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Stephen Cluxton kicks the winning point in injury time to stun Kerry In 2011. Photo: Sportsfile

Stephen Cluxton kicks the winning point in injury time to stun Kerry In 2011. Photo: Sportsfile

Stephen Cluxton kicks the winning point in injury time to stun Kerry In 2011. Photo: Sportsfile

MIGHT Stephen Cluxton have perceived the footsteps of destiny keeping time with his own stomp to centre stage?

September 18, 2011, the closing gasps of an All-Ireland final that has belatedly screamed to ­thrilling life, and history, ­mammoth and asphyxiating, is bearing down on Dublin’s ­goalkeeper like a cannonball.

In this instant, it is possible to re-imagine Cluxton as a sniper poised to squeeze the trigger and set free the most far-reaching rifle shot in the city’s football story.

He is Lee Harvey Oswald on the grassy knoll; Gavrilo Princip stepping out of the Sarajevo shadows to aim his FN Model 1910 at the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

The bullet he is about to discharge from his left boot has the potential to alter the course of sporting history. Inside Croke Park the air is dry and almost devoid of oxygen; a suffocating tension creeps into every cavity. Just sitting in the Hogan Stand feels as debilitating as running across Sahara sands under a hellish midday glare.

Ten years ago this weekend, and fate has placed the keys to championship liberation at Cluxton’s feet.

Can he find the lock and initiate a jailbreak?

One kick to heal an intense 16-year ache...

In the RTÉ co-commentator’s seat Martin Carney puts a voice to a huge ­television audience’s thoughts: “He has the most important kick of his career, for Dublin, for the supporters. Let’s see if he can hold his nerve.”

Cluxton is stoic as he makes the 100-yard journey from his goal, offering no external evidence of the weighty cargo of hope perched on his 30-year-old shoulders.

A vital clarification: This is not yet the surefooted, imperious Dublin who, later, under Jim Gavin – battle-ribbons dripping from their lapels – will advance through endless seasons of Sundays with majestic ease.

No, back then this was a county riddled with anxiety, scarred by failure, defined by angst.

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In 2011, Dublin hold a well-worn loyalty card for the house of torment: One All-Ireland in the previous 27 attempts, they are a team who have patented a bottomless diversity of ways to bring a season to a tragicomic end. Just months earlier, they had inexplicably blown a lead in the last act of an NFL final against Cork.

A year earlier they had leaked five goals to Meath; 12 months before that again, a 17-point Kerry trouncing had memorably prompted manager Pat Gilroy to describe his team as “startled earwigs”.

Here, Kerry had been cruising to victory until, minutes ago, Kevin McManamon’s goal fuelled Dublin’s engine of hope.

The noise when the substitute’s strike finds the Hill 16 net is that of Vesuvius erupting, of Thor issuing forth an entire battalion of thunderbolts.

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Kieran Donaghy of Kerry during the 2011 All-Ireland SFC defeat to Dublin in, Croke Park. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

Kieran Donaghy of Kerry during the 2011 All-Ireland SFC defeat to Dublin in, Croke Park. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

Kieran Donaghy of Kerry during the 2011 All-Ireland SFC defeat to Dublin in, Croke Park. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

An extraordinary back and forth follows. A playlist of ­unforgettable scores: A sunlit intervention from Kevin Nolan; Bernard Brogan being Bernard Brogan. Kieran Donaghy curling a score for the ages in reply.

Now, it all comes down to one pendulum swing of Cluxton’s left leg.

What unspools next will determine the dimensions of Dublin dreams over the next decade.

After McManamon is fouled, with the clock at 71.02, Brogan whispers in his fellow forward’s ear, before turning toward the Canal End and dialling the 1-800-Cluxton emergency line.

The keeper’s advance is unhurried, the gentle gallop of a thoroughbred gambolling from paddock to starting stall.

The camera pans to faces in the crowd. Strap a blood pressure monitor to any one of them and the explosion will be heard as far away as Killarney and Tralee.

If a building, a creation of metal, concrete and glass, can succumb to cardiac arrest then this is surely the moment.

Gasping for breath, it is as if the old coliseum itself requires defibrillation.

Cluxton looks at the posts twice as he places the ball on a cushion of grass, 40 yards from the end line, 20 in from the Cusack, the O’Neill’s logo perfectly parallel to the ground.

He momentarily places his left toe under the ball. He exhales. Then, he surrenders to muscle memory.

Five steps back, two to the left, rubbing his gloved hands once on his shirt’s Vodafone logo.

There is not even a second’s pause; instantly, he hits forward thrust and, like a NASA rocket escaping the Cape Canaveral launch pad, the ball has lift off, a cream-shaded orb arcing toward the heavens.

The Sky Blues have crashed into a deadweight of despair so many times, but the rising rumble of sound from The Hill does not have a single mournful note.

It is the peal of the liberty bell chiming.

On commentary, Ger Canning exclaims in capital letters: “HE PUTS THE BALL OVER THE BAR AND DUBLIN LEAD 1-12 TO 1-11… CLUXTON THE HERO.”

In that instant, tens of thousands of dreams conglomerate and are made flesh.

Strangers hug; the soulless cry; Dubliners look to the heavens to catch fallen loved ones’ tears.

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18 September 2011; Classy even in defeat. In a noble gesture Kerry defender Tomás Ó Sé hands the ball to match-winner Stephen Cluxton. Picture credit; Dáire Brennan / SPORTSFILE

18 September 2011; Classy even in defeat. In a noble gesture Kerry defender Tomás Ó Sé hands the ball to match-winner Stephen Cluxton. Picture credit; Dáire Brennan / SPORTSFILE

18 September 2011; Classy even in defeat. In a noble gesture Kerry defender Tomás Ó Sé hands the ball to match-winner Stephen Cluxton. Picture credit; Dáire Brennan / SPORTSFILE

In a classy gesture after the whistle, Kerry’s Tomás Ó Sé retrieves the ball, seeks out Cluxton and hands him his souvenir.

An eddy of euphoria washes over the place. The city boys have found their moment in time.

What might have happened had Cluxton misfired is a largely pointless matter of speculation.

Perhaps the coming wave of generational talents – Kilkenny, McCaffrey, Fenton, Mannion, Rock, none of them playing that day 10 years ago, – would, through the sheer force of their eminence, have forced open the door to the treasure house.

What is certain is that Cluxton smoothed the path, radically ­reduced the gradient on the climb to greatness.

One kick, the shot that was heard wherever Gaelic football was played, and everything changed.

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Dublin's Kevin McManamon is overcome with emotion after the match. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

Dublin's Kevin McManamon is overcome with emotion after the match. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

Dublin's Kevin McManamon is overcome with emotion after the match. Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

Dublin’s fretfulness gave way to certainty and they would lift Sam Maguire seven times in their next nine attempts.

A decade ago this weekend, Cluxton midwifed a new era into being.

His nerveless incision will be remembered as the instant in which the umbilical cord was cut.

And a force that would in time announce itself as the greatest the game has ever known, made an unforgettable entry into an instantly changed, Sky Blue-shaded world.


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