Despite all the attention, David Clifford remains totally at ease
by Adam Moynihan
It's not something that most of us - the mere mortals of this world - have ever had to worry about, but being double-marked looks like a complete pain in the arse. It's annoying enough having one sticky back breathing on your neck without having another spoilsport blocking your supply lines from the front.
Kerry superstar David Clifford isn't one of us, though, so naturally enough he's enjoying it.
Speaking via Zoom from Croke Park (the Fossa native was there to launch SuperValu's #CommunityIncludesEveryone campaign), Clifford was typically breezy when it came to the topic of rivals doing anything and everything in their power to stop him.
"That’s something we’ve started to come across and will continue to come across," the 23-year-old said when asked about Cork playing two defenders on him in last weekend’s Munster semi-final.
"It’s [about] trying to find solutions, trying to have as many scoring threats as we can. They can’t double-mark everyone, d’you know what I mean?
"It’s obviously tricky and that brings its challenges but trying to find ways around it is enjoyable too."
Clifford is arguably the standout Gaelic football talent of the modern era and witnessing him in full flow must be one of the most joyous experiences in sport. It therefore stands to reason that seeing him getting corralled and penned in by two opponents is one of the most horrid.
Watching him the last day was like watching a lion in a zoo. It’s always cool to see the king of the jungle but keeping him in a cage just doesn’t sit right.
Of course, Cork are perfectly entitled to set up however they want. And for much of the match - the first half in particular - their gameplan worked. Clifford was on the periphery, limited to a single point from play. As the soon-to-be-qualified PE teacher alluded to today, the onus is on Kerry to find other ways to score when they simply cannot get the ball into his hands.
The fact that Kerry’s other forwards scored 0-18 against Cork shows that they are capable of doing it. The fact that Kerry failed to get over the line when Clifford was sidelined for extra time against Tyrone last September shows that they still have a point to prove against the bigger teams.
Clifford was at ease during his 22-minute chat with myself and other print journalists, deftly sidestepping potentially loaded questions like they were hapless defenders clutching at the air around him. A dummy solo past the championship structure debate. A pirouette around the Kerry captaincy issue. A quick turn of pace left my query about the significance of potentially winning this year’s All-Ireland for dead.
He is certainly a lot more comfortable in front of the media now than the David Clifford who burst onto the senior intercounty scene in 2018. Back then, he was wide-eyed and slightly nonplussed by it all. Now, he pretty much has it (us?) all figured out.
But there was still plenty to feed on from today’s briefing. He spoke of his infant son, Óigí, and how becoming a father has put life into perspective for him.
“It’s a change but it’s massively enjoyable. There’s great fun attached to it. It feels like sport is everything and we put everything into it but health and family take a priority."
When asked if seeing his child after a disappointing performance helps, the former MTU Kerry student said that it does. “Óigí doesn’t tend to be too worried about whether we’ve won or not!”
He also spoke about avoiding the hype. Many observers rate him as the best player in the country. Others (including this writer) have publicly stated that he could well be the best they’ve ever seen.
“I haven’t paid too much attention to it, or haven’t seen a whole pile of it,” Clifford insisted. “I’m not on social media really and that’s probably a good thing.”
Perhaps most interesting of all were his insights into his own thought processes. Where does his focus lie? Does he always have football on the brain, or can he switch off?
“I’m just trying to focus on a game-to-game basis. There’s still plenty of stuff to work on.
“Throughout the league you’re just trying to get minutes into the legs, and things come so thick and fast that you don’t have much time to think. The time between the games [during championship] is good to reflect.
“[But] it can be hard to put games to the back of your mind. I’m trying to work on that – to try and be focussed when you need to be focussed and to step away when you need to step away.”
Is there room for improvement in his game?
“Yeah, 100%. Trying to get that consistency of performance is a big focus for me.”
Most would argue that he has been pretty consistent so far in his young career. If he can make improvements in that department, keeping him in his cage might become a three-man job.
Kingdom hoping to lay some old ghosts to rest at Páirc Uí Chaoimh
by Adam Moynihan
All-Ireland SFC Group 1
Cork v Kerry
Saturday at 3pm
Páirc Uí Chaoimh
I was one of the unlucky few to have been present at the last Cork-Kerry clash in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in November of 2020. It was a truly awful night.
The match was played behind closed doors which made for an eerie, unsettling atmosphere, and the rain came down harder than I ever remember seeing first-hand.
Unfortunately, Kerry came down hard too. Mark Keane’s last-ditch goal clinched an unexpected victory for the hosts and, just like that, Kerry’s year was over.
It always hurts when your team loses but that one completely floored us all. It was such a horrible way to lose a game and I felt so bad for the players as they trudged off the field, soaked to the bone and shaken to the core.
They got some form of payback the following year when they won by 21 in the Munster final, and again last year when they ran out 11-point winners in the semi-final. But something tells me that it would mean a lot more to return to Páirc Uí Chaoimh and do the business there.
It won’t be easy. The final scorelines in the last two games suggest that it was all one-way traffic but that simply wasn’t the case. In 2021, Cork led by 1-5 to 0-4 at the water break (remember those?) and they pushed Kerry hard 12 months ago too. There was nothing in that match right up until the 50th minute, at which point Kerry brought on David Moran and Paul Geaney and ultimately pulled away.
You can never really read too much into the McGrath Cup but Cork demolished Kerry in January. Their form since has been spotty but they did well to see off Louth last week, with the returning Brian Hurley (shoulder) kicking eight points in a two-point win. Hurley has proved to be a handful for Kerry full back Jason Foley in the past.
Significantly, John Cleary’s side are strong in a key area where Kerry struggled against Mayo: midfield. Ian Maguire and Colm O’Callaghan scored 0-2 each in Navan (and the latter scored 2-4 in that aforementioned McGrath Cup game at the start of the year).
Jack O’Connor named his team last night with Adrian Spillane replacing Tony Brosnan and Paul Murphy coming in for Dylan Casey. Spillane will add some extra brawn and energy around the middle third. Going by the last outing, Kerry need it.
It is also worth noting that David Clifford has never really shot the lights out against Cork. He has been well minded by Maurice Shanley, Seán Meehan and Kevin Flahive in the past three championship meetings, with the retreating Seán Powter also getting stuck in when needed.
Flahive suffered a cruciate injury late in last year’s game but he could potentially be in line for a comeback tomorrow; he has been added to Cork’s 26 for the first time in over 12 months.
Meehan has been ruled out with a hamstring injury so Shanley may be asked to track the Footballer of the Year this time around.
Clifford was one of the few bright sparks against Mayo and he would love to bring that form to the Páirc on Saturday. With vital points on the line, there would be no better time to lay some ghosts to rest.
From a Kerry perspective, you would hope – and perhaps expect – that Clifford and his teammates can do exactly that and get the show back on the road.
1. Shane Ryan
2. Graham O’Sullivan
3. Jason Foley
4. Tom O’Sullivan
5. Paul Murphy
6. Tadhg Morley
7. Gavin White
8. Diarmuid O’Connor
9. Jack Barry
10. Dara Moynihan
11. Seánie O’Shea
12. Adrian Spillane
13. Paudie Clifford
14. David Clifford
15. Paul Geaney
Subs: S Murphy, T Brosnan, D Casey, BD O’Sullivan, R Murphy, M Burns, M Breen, S O’Brien, D O’Sullivan, C O’Donoghue, S O’Brien.
1. Micheál Aodh Martin
2. Maurice Shanley
3. Rory Maguire
4. Kevin O’Donovan
5. Luke Fahy
6. Daniel O’Mahony
7. Matty Taylor
8. Colm O’Callaghan
9. Ian Maguire
10. Brian O’Driscoll
11. Ruairí Deane
12. Killian O’Hanlon
13. Seán Powter
14. Brian Hurley
15. Chris Óg Jones
Subs: P Doyle, C Kiely, T Clancy, K Flahive, P Walsh, E McSweeney, B Murphy, J O’Rourke , M Cronin, S Sherlock, F Herlihy.
Is Killarney green or blue? Celtic and Athletic to face off in tonight’s league final
Kerry Premier A League Final
Killarney Celtic v Killarney Athletic
Tonight at 7.45pm
Mounthawk Park, Tralee
Killarney Celtic will be gunning for their fifth league title in a row tonight (Friday) when they take on crosstown rivals Killarney Athletic in Tralee.
Celtic have been the dominant force in Kerry soccer in recent times with Athletic playing second fiddle. This will be the third Premier A final in a row to be contested by the Killarney clubs; Celtic won the 2020 decider 4-0 and last year’s final ended in a 3-0 victory for the club from Derreen. (The 2020/21 season was scrapped due to the pandemic.)
Prior to that, Celtic defeated Castleisland in 2019 and Dingle Bay Rovers in 2018, both on a scoreline of 1-0.
Celtic and Athletic also met in the 2017 final. The Blues prevailed in that particular encounter to capture their first ever Premier A title.
As for this season, Neilus Hayes’ Hoops qualified for the final by virtue of their first-place finish in the Premier A. Despite losing key players – including attackers Ryan Kelliher, Stephen McCarthy and Trpimir Vrljicak – to the Kerry FC project, the Celts won 12 of their 14 matches and ended up with an imposing goal difference of +34.
Athletic were not far behind, however; Stuart Templeman’s team only lost one league game all season en route to 35 points – one behind Celtic and 11 clear of Castleisland in third.
Interestingly, both of Celtic’s losses came at the hands of Athletic. The Woodlawn outfit impressively beat the old enemy 3-2 and 0-1 over the course of the regular season.
Goals by Roko Rujevcan, Pedja Glumcevic and a 90th-minute winner by Brendan Moloney clinched that dramatic 3-2 win in October of last year. It was a result that signalled Athletic’s intentions for the rest of the season.
Rujevcan was also on the scoresheet when Athletic snatched a rare away win at Celtic Park on April 30.
Celtic’s imposing record in finals probably makes them slight favourites and in the likes of John McDonagh, Brendan Falvey, Wayne Sparling, Kevin O’Sullivan and Witness Odirile they have a potent mix of steel and skill.
But Athletic will take heart from their recent results in this fixture and they will be hoping that two of the stars from the 2017 team – Shane Doolan and Shane Lynch – can lead the current crop of players to glory.
Meanwhile, the Division 2B final between Killarney Athletic B and Atletico Ardfert that was also due to take place tonight has been cancelled. Athletic have received a walkover.
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