It’s often said that Gaelic football is a team game and a sense of ‘team’ has to be above every other value.
But that’s only an aspiration. Within teams, there has to be a ruthless individual that cares for themselves first and foremost, and that is the goalkeeper.
With only one position on the starting team to go for, there isn’t a goalkeeper worth their salt who isn’t ruthless in the pursuit of the No.1 jersey.
And few have been as ruthless as Stephen Cluxton, though it should be pointed out that he was more ruthless with himself than anyone he ever came across in a glittering career.
It was said during Colm O’Rourke and Tomás Ó Sé’s discussion on The Sunday Game that Cluxton’s continuing absence from the Dublin team is in some way a ‘selfish’ act. And it is because it has to be. That’s exactly what goalkeepers are – individuals within a team structure.
When a goal goes in, the first person to blame is the goalkeeper, not the forward who didn’t track an opposing run that created an overlap to get somebody into a shooting position.
Like, say, the young David Fitzgerald.
When he was trying to make it as the Clare hurling goalkeeper, he found out the route that his rival for the No.1 jersey took on his way to work. And then he would show up five minutes before he passed and start pucking a ball against a gable wall to show that no matter what he was doing, Fitzgerald was doing more.
Or when John Leonard was a substitute below Cluxton himself, he found Cluxton would share the tips of the trade, but only up to a point. When Leonard noticed Cluxton went in early to training to work on his game individually, Leonard started doing the same.
But he could never arrive in before Cluxton, who took it as a point of principle that he would be first in.
I’d say any goalkeeper would take that as a badge of honour.