It was the point that sent a county wild, painted a city blue. In 2011, Parnells goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton led Dublin to their first All Ireland senior football Championship title since 1995.
Once again the GAA Senior Football Championship final was at hand, Dublin were set to face off against old rivals Kerry at Croker in the annual showpiece. Despite forming a regular rivalry Dublin and Kerry had not met in a final since 1985. Kerry have historically had the edge over Dublin, winning 8 out of 12 finals against the Dubs. Kerry were not to be taken lightly, being the most successful Footballing outfit in the history of the GAA. Kerry also had the benefit of wins in more recent clashes with Dublin, regularly dismantling the Dubs, including a 17 point win in the 2009 quarter final. A win for Dublin would be no easy task.
Kerry came out of the traps fastest and scored an early point courtesy of Declan O’Sullivan. It was instantly apparent that Dublin might be in for a long day. Both teams then exchanged early chances without success until eventually Alan Brogan drew the Dubs level.Kerry got the first goal of the day, with Kerry talisman Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper finishing of a Kerry attack by netting past Dublin keeper Stephen Cluxton. Worries that Kerry might be ready to run away with it were short lived with Bernard Brogan getting on the scoresheet from a free kick. Goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton, Dublin’s fourth top scorer during the campaign, added to Dublin’s points tally with a free kick. It wouldn’t be last of the keepers point scoring exploits that day. This was followed up by more accurate finishing from Bernard Brogan, firing Dublin to a 2 point lead. Kerry substitute Paul Galvin managed to knock the ball over just before the half to leave Kerry just one point down at half time, 1-02 to Dublin’s 0-6. So far so good for the boys in blue.
Brogan continued his scoring after the half and combined with Denis Bastick to make sure that Dublin scoring continued. Kerry fought back with successive points and they were causing problems for the Dubs. Kerry kept their feet on the gas and midway through the half were one point up on Dublin, it was starting to look like this year’s title was slipping from their hands. Kerry continued to outscore the Dubs, who introduced experienced forward Kevin McManamon in the hope that he could inspire a turnaround. With Dublin trailing by 4 points with less than 10 minutes to go it was clear that they would need to dig deep. Memories of past failures against Kerry were rearing their ugly heads amongst players and fans alike.
Thankfully, Kevin McManamon delivered in style, bursting through onto an Alan Brogan pass, powering past the Kerry defence and firing home in front of a boisterous Hill 16. Dublin had closed the gap to one point but the clock was ticking. 2 minutes of regulation time remained when Nolan drew Dublin level and they must have thought they had it won after a late point from Bernard Brogan, only for Kerry to even the score again. With mere seconds left on the clock substitute Kevin McManamon made another vital contribution, winning a free kick nearly 40 yards from the Kerry goal.
This was a chance for Dublin to seal the deal. Croke Park fell silent as Stephen Cluxton made the long walk from his goal to take the kick. The score stood at 1-11 to 1-11. This was it, make or break time for Dublin. It seemed like an eternity as Cluxton approached the ball and composed himself. Hill 16 held it’s breath. The whole county was frozen in that moment. As he had so many times that season Cluxton delivered the goods and Hill 16 exploded into scenes of elation. As strangers hugged strangers and the crowd partied Cluxton turned and made his way back to his goal. Job done. Strangers hugged and kisses as a party broke out on the hill. The 16 year wait was over and Dublin were All Ireland champions once more.
The Dublin support sang in jubilation and captain Bryan Cullen was just minutes away from making a victory speech in the Hogan stand Cluxton made his way away from the spotlight and straight down the tunnel. He’s never been one to revel in media attention but even he must have known that he had become an icon of Dublin football history that day in Croke Park. Cullen highlighted that Dublin had been “to hell and back” to get to where they were, Cluxton had brought heaven to earth for Dublin GAA with his climactic point.
There were many contributors to Dublin’s success in 2011, and no small amount of hard work, but the image of goalkeeper Cluxton keeping his calm and causing the rest of the county to lose theirs is one that will endure in the history of this great sport. Adding weight to the historic moment is the fact that Cluxton became the first keeper to score a winning point in an All Ireland final, a fitting record for the goalkeeper who many claim has changed the whole dynamic of Gaelic Football goalkeeping in modern era GAA with his precision ball delivery.
The point that sealed a 23rdAll Ireland Senior Football title for Dublin has been a defining moment both for cult hero Cluxton and for Dublin, who built on the success, winning again in 2013 and still looking like the dominant force in todays game. The win in 2013 was of course special too, as future wins will be, but anyone reflecting on current Dublin dominance will no doubt have their minds drawn to Cluxton’s late dramatic kick into the Hill. That win reinvigorated football in the county, ending a 16 year wait for All Ireland glory.
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BY - Finn Mongey
15 August 2015