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Ciarán Murphy: Uncertainty around Stephen Cluxton in line with a man we never really knew

We should be thankful for such a man – one who still wants to keep a few secrets

If Stephen Cluxton really has played his last game for Dublin, you'd have to say this is all pretty on-brand. No announcement, no formal statement, no twitter goodbye. He will be the Dublin goalkeeper, captain, talisman and game-changer . . . until the moment he isn't.

We still obviously don’t know if he’s retired or not. We know that he played outfield for his club Parnells last weekend, in a round of fixtures that no-one involved with the Dublin senior football team would ordinarily have been cleared to play in if they were going to be involved this week against Wexford in the Leinster championship.

We know that there are some GAA players with three FBD League medals, four league appearances and one championship start in eight years who would happily write a three-page goodbye letter in the Notes app on their phone and release it to the world when their manager finally puts them out of their misery, and Stephen Cluxton is most assuredly not one of those people.

The GAA player retirement statement has yet to give us anything in the way of sparkling rhetoric (“thanks a million to the GPA for all the brilliant work that they do” is not a phrase to make the heart soar). I don’t know why I’m so miserable about them, but there does appear to be something performative about it. You can tell your team-mates you’re finished in the WhatsApp group, so everything else is just ego-stroking, surely?

That's not a route that Stephen Cluxton is going to go down, and we should be thankful for that at least. But maybe a little clarity for the next man up, whether that's Evan Comerford, who has long been groomed for the job, or Michael Shiel, who deputised so well in Tuam last month, would be useful.

An announcement, if it comes, will probably come from his manager, who will continue to be asked about it until a definitive answer is forthcoming - and at some stage that’s going to become a distraction too. All we know for now is that if Stephen Cluxton really was retiring, this is probably what it would look like.

He didn’t appear in any of the national league games this year, he’s playing outfield for his club a week before the Dublin championship begins, and yet there are still people who will tell you this is no big deal, that he’ll stroll back into the Dublin team in time for the All-Ireland semi-finals and final.

Does that sound like the sort of thing Stephen Cluxton would do? Does that sound like the sort of thing Dublin would do?

They made exceptions for Diarmuid Connolly, and they could obviously make an exception for their seven-time All-Ireland winning captain and talisman . . . but he doesn't seem like the sort of fella who would be comfortable being made an exception of.

If this is the last act of Stephen Cluxton, Dublin footballer, then maybe it’ll go along a similar route to the other, annoying, ancillary parts of the job that he discovered he couldn’t really avoid.

He was team captain, so a man who never really dug public speaking had to deliver a speech to an audience of 82,000 people in the ground and a million more on television. He was team captain, so he had to offer himself up to Marty Morrissey on All-Ireland final night, and hope Jack McCaffrey wasn't acting the goat in the back-ground.

At some stage, it’ll dawn on him that his stature in the game means he can’t just walk off into the sunset without a few words of farewell.

Whenever it happens, a fuss will need to be made. Someone will try and convince him to mark it in some way, to release a statement, to try and put it all into words.

And we’d like to hear him try. For all that silence has been his friend, we’re curious about him. We’re curious about the man who “revolutionised the game ™”, and we think we deserve some words about his coaches, his former team-mates, maybe even the GPA and all the brilliant work that they do.

If he just said “feck that, let ‘em hang”, well . . . that would appear rather more in-line with a man we never really knew in the first place.

Ciarán Kilkenny said last week he’s on a list of players returning to training, other Dublin players more recently retired than Ciarán Whelan have sounded much more sanguine about his belated return to Dublin than Whelan did on TV last Sunday night, so the temptation is there to take them at their word - that he will be back for his tilt at a recording-breaking ninth All-Ireland medal. But I get the feeling we won’t know for sure until we see him with our own eyes.

Should he stroll back unannounced into the Dublin goalmouth on Sunday afternoon, and set his jaw in that familiar style, we should be thankful for a man who still wants to keep a few secrets.

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