Stephen Cluxton question one of a few facing Dublin ahead of championship

As things stand, the Dubs seem to still have more filling in to do than in other years

Donegal’s Hugh McFadden with Con O’Callaghan of Dublin in their Allianz Football League Division 1 semi-final at Kingspan Breffni Park, Cavan. Photograph: ©Inpho/Morgan Treacy

Donegal’s Hugh McFadden with Con O’Callaghan of Dublin in their Allianz Football League Division 1 semi-final at Kingspan Breffni Park, Cavan. Photograph: ©Inpho/Morgan Treacy

 

The year is half done and the Dubs keep rolling. A shared National League title won’t detain too many beyond the quizzers but if it’s pointers for the championship we came looking for, Breffni Park on Saturday night was hardly the place to see them. Probably the most interesting fact found on the mission concerned someone who wasn’t even there.

The rumour mill keeps grinding away on the matter of Stephen Cluxton. For the first time in 20 years, a Dublin league campaign has passed without Cluxton playing a single minute. Evan Comerford was on duty here, to the usual assured effect – if and when the future happens without their legendary captain, Dublin have laid the groundwork for Comerford to keep the show going.

Will that be in the 2021 championship? Apparently not, it seems. Despite plenty of unofficial chatter about whether or not Cluxton will be in the jersey for the Leinster championship opener in four weeks, the line from Dublin continues to be that nothing has changed. When asked about him on Saturday night, Mick Galvin gave a pretty straight answer.

“Stephen is playing with his club tonight,” the Dublin selector said. “As are the four other players who didn’t travel with us tonight, so that’s where we are. We’ll be expecting to have Stephen back as soon as we step back into championship training. At the moment, as I said, the guys who didn’t travel played with their clubs and Stephen is one of them.”

There’s clearly no great reason to doubt Galvin’s bona fides on the matter. Maybe there was a little wiggle room in his use of “expecting” there to allow for the possibility that Cluxton is still deciding his future. Or maybe this is all idle scum-media speculation on a night when there was very little on the pitch to exercise the mind. One way or another, the chatter will continue until Dublin supporters see their number one again. Or don’t, as the case may be.

Other issues

Cluxton isn’t the only question for which the Dubs are still working through their answer. They head into the high summer with the spine of their team as gleaming as ever – Con O’Callaghan was terrific again on Saturday night, ditto James McCarthy, Ciarán Kilkenny and Brian Fenton. Until the latter stages of the championship, it’s not going to matter very much who they play alongside that quartet.

But equally, it’s clear that they still have a bit more filling in to do than in other years. Johnny Cooper didn’t travel to Cavan, and neither did Dean Rock or Robbie McDaid. John Small is a major injury concern, with no guarantees on when his return might be. Fenton’s partner when the midfield heat comes on could be Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne – ineffectual on Saturday – or Tom Lahiff or Brian Howard. Howard filled in at centre-back on Saturday in Cooper’s absence and Dublin started the game with three corner-forwards on the pitch: Colm Basquel, Paddy Small and Cormac Costello.

Costello has had an excellent league campaign, his two missed penalties against Roscommon notwithstanding. He was flawless from placed balls on Saturday night, kicking six from six. He also played a huge part in the Dublin goal, instructing Small on exactly where to run before dragging two Donegal defenders in the opposite direction to make the space for him and then finding him with a lovely looped handpass.

He finishes the league with 3-28 from four games and will surely start in the championship. Rock has only had to bide his time in other years before taking over the jersey. With Costello in this form, it might not be such a done deal this time around.

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