Despite all of the accolades that have come Stephen Cluxton’s way, he claims it is the friendships that he appreciates most from his 18 years of service to Dublin football.
The 2019 PwC Footballer of the Year admits that in the earlier years he never put much attention into forging friendships but feels that it has been vital to the success seen in the latter half of his career.
“If I never won a medal in football for any team, the friendship we have is just better than anything. We kind of live out of each other’s pockets for most of the year. In years previously I wouldn’t have been that close to guys I would have just gone to training, trained hard, and gone home and that was it.
“But, for some reason, maybe it’s the captaincy or whatever, there just seems to be that kind of friendship there now. I think the best times that you have with these guys are in training. That’s when you actually have the most joy and fun and the joking and stuff like that. The dressing-room banter and stuff like that, you just can’t get it anywhere.”
Having become the first side in the history of Gaelic Games to win five successive All-Ireland titles, a lot of praise has been showered onto Jim Gavin’s side.
The word “humble” is one particular adjective that has been lobbied at this all-conquering Dublin team and Cluxton feels the players’ humility has played a huge part in maintaining the side’s success.
“I think it’s a huge part of it. I’d go to the cinema with someone like Eoin Murchan, Brian Fenton and his partner Sarah, and sometimes Con O’Callaghan.
“Obviously, when we’re within the Championship season you don’t obviously get to go out and have a drink with these guys. We get on so well outside of football that I think it makes you that bit hungrier and that bit more willing to put it all out on the line for them. That’s the sign of this team, their humility, and just the friendship we have in the group is fantastic.”
While not finished quite yet, Cluxton will surely go down as one of the greatest ever once it is all said and done.
So far, the Parnells man has picked up seven All-Ireland titles with six of them coming as captain. However, the first half of his Dublin career was littered with heartbreaking defeats.
Cluxton believes those lean years have stood to him and credits many of the stars of Dublin’s past for helping him learn and grow into the game’s most successful ever captain.
“When I look back to 2001 and up to 2010, the ups and downs that we had throughout those years, they were very turbulent. Maybe from 2010 onwards we found our feet and started working harder.
“I think when you look back on it, I think that time-frame has stood to me. You learn something new from everybody. Whether it’s positive or negative you’ll learn something from something someone else is doing and you can take.
“Especially from captains like Bryan Cullen and people like Denis Bastick, some great leaders. Paul Flynn as well, they’ve all put their shoulder to the wheel. Paul Casey, Tomás Quinn, the list is endless to be quite honest.
“You just take small nuggets from them and you try to bring that into your own game and bring it into your own captaincy.”
Cluxton knows that without the support of his family he would never be where he is today.
“It does start with your parents and their dedication to bring me to games as a child and any sport that was available was a huge bearing on where I am today.
“Yeah, and in fairness, all of my siblings have had to put up with me at one stage or another. I’d feel sorry for them more than for anybody else. I’ve missed weddings, I’ve missed baptisms and communions and confirmations and things like that and they’ve been very understanding. My brother and sisters are just so understanding. Again, without their support, I wouldn’t have started that journey.
“Obviously my wife has taken on the baton, God love her! You can imagine it doesn’t be easy when I come home and have had a poor training session! But it’s water off a duck’s back for her and I think that works really well for both of us. She has been a phenomenal support and without her, I certainly wouldn’t be here today.”