In pure football terms, no one I’ve seen is better than Clifford
by Adam Moynihan
For most players, posting 1-9 and being named Man of the Match in a county final would define a career. For David Clifford, it didn’t even define his weekend.
Less than 48 hours before he led East Kerry to another title in Tralee, Clifford was in the Dublin Docklands picking up his fourth All-Star in five attempts. (But for the pandemic, there’s a decent chance it would be five in five.)
He was also crowned Footballer of the Year at the GAA’s end-of-season gala which effectively means that the 23-year-old PE teacher has already achieved all there is to achieve when it comes to intercounty football. His widely predicted ascent to the very top of the game is complete. The Fossa man is the best Gaelic footballer in the country. Or the world, if you want to be American about it.
That much is undeniably true but more contentious is the debate surrounding Clifford’s place amongst the all-time greats.
It’s an interesting question and one that crops up regularly in the smoking areas and quiet corners of Kerry’s public houses, but the reality is that it’s simply too early to judge his legacy and his career just yet. All going well he could have a decade left in him. Maybe more, maybe less.
Who knows what the future will bring for him and for his team, but right now the honours section of his Wikipedia page doesn’t compare with those of Colm Cooper or Pat Spillane, for example. It doesn’t even compare with those of some of the Dublin players who have won it all in recent times.
For this reason, it’s not right to call Clifford the GOAT. I’ve done it myself online in emoji form, for instance when he executed his drag back and finish against Galway in 2021, but I think the term “GOAT” has become less literal and more symbolic over time. When fans of soccer clubs start using the acronym to describe some mediocre centre half who has just made a basic tackle, the word loses whatever weight it had in the first place.
You really can’t refer to a player as young as Clifford as the greatest ever. As much as he has achieved, he hasn’t achieved enough yet. He needs to do it again and again and put together a body of work over a longer period to earn that particular title.
But I will stand over what I said recently, and what I’ve been saying about Clifford for a good while now: he is the best player I’ve ever seen.
At this point you might rightly ask what I mean by “best” and how he can be the “best” but not the “greatest”.
“Best” to me refers to how good he is at football - in the purest form of that notion. Forget the accomplishments and the silverware. Things like that contribute to a player’s legacy but they have no bearing on the simple act of you or me, as observers, going to a match and watching a footballer on a pitch.
How good is Clifford in this regard? To me, he is the best. The way he plays - his skill levels, his technique, his physicality, his creativity, his attitude - I’ve never seen anything like it.
You can make strong arguments for other wonderful players, many of them Kerrymen, who have gone before him, and that’s fair enough. Everyone has their own favourites and, when it boils down to it, judging a footballer is as subjective as judging a painter or a musician or any other kind of artist. Some people like James Corden. There’s no accounting for taste.
But when you really break down and analyse the games of other legendary players, are there many things they were able to do on a pitch that Clifford can’t? Are there any?
Conversely, are there things Clifford can do on a pitch that they couldn’t?
Again, all-time greats are judged by their careers. Although his place in the pantheon of Kerry legends is already secured, he will only be considered god of gods if he and his team sample even more success in the coming years. With that in mind, I’ll show restraint with the goat emojis for now.
In pure footballing terms, though, and judging him solely by how he plays the game, I firmly believe that I’ve never seen anyone better.
An Hour with Paul Galvin: Drawing lines between football and fashion
by Adam Moynihan
Whenever you meet a famous man, the people you tell always ask the same question. “What’s he like?” But when that famous man is Paul Galvin, the question is delivered with a little more emphasis. As in, “what’s that fella actually like?”
The tone hints at a sort of weird scepticism that, for some, still pervades the very notion of a GAA player from Kerry pivoting to fashion. Add to that his on-field reputation for being an emotionally charged – if unquestionably skilled – force of nature, and his brooding demeanour, and it’s easy to see why people who don’t know him are keen to figure him out.
Earlier this week, Paul was kind enough to bring me in to Dunnes Stores Head Office in Dublin to show me around. After introducing me to a few of his colleagues in a ground-floor studio where models were posing in some of Dunnes’ latest offerings, he brought me up to a fourth-floor room with some nice seating and a balcony overlooking George’s Street.
Maybe the hour-long chat that followed would give me an idea of what Paul Galvin is “actually” like.
It’s patently true that the path that Galvin is walking is not well worn. After putting together a brilliant body of work with Kerry that included four All-Irelands, three All-Stars and a Footballer of the Year award in 2009, he retired in 2014 and turned his attention to clothing.
On the surface the two callings are worlds apart but Galvin doesn’t see it that way. He is adept at drawing lines and finding parallels between ostensibly disparate things. To him, the connections are obvious.
“It’s all very interlinked,” he explains. “Stadia, boots, footballs, jerseys. Everything was designed. If you don’t have design in sport, you don’t have the same sport. You might not even have the sport at all.”
He explores this relationship between design and sport in his latest collection for Dunnes. ‘Lines’ is inspired by the lines on a GAA pitch and the pieces in this collection include references to these markings. For example, the green and navy ‘Groundskeepers’ jacket has the inner lines of the pitch on the upper back, and the area around the goalmouth features on one of the sleeves.
“I like the lines. I was always conscious of the pitch lines as a measuring tool in terms of proportions. There’s great proportions to the pitch and you can actually apply those measurements to clothing.”
He must sense that I’m not fully following.
“I do, anyway,” he adds.
“I use the pitch lines in my head for understanding proportions. When samples come in we would do a little bit on fit and I’d have a proportion in my head that works for the brand. I tend to measure the proportions by the pitch lines.
“The GAA pitch is an exercise in design. The groundskeeper is a designer. The same things are at play in tailoring.”
Galvin’s nine-year partnership with Dunnes is going strong and his admiration for the company is obvious. He classes them as an Irish “cultural institution”, alongside the likes of the GAA and RTÉ. Plus, they took a punt on him, and he knows it.
“We started from scratch. I proposed this Irish men’s brand that I felt could offer something more meaningful in terms of storytelling and design. I was very fortunate that Dunnes understood that proposition and were willing to get behind it all those years ago.
“I think the brand has a good position in the market now and I think it’s understood that it’s a storytelling brand and there’s a good bit of meaning and intention behind it.”
Did he foresee it lasting this long?
“We didn’t know, really, like,” he admits. “Dunnes were taking a chance and I was just following intuition. I was following a vision for sure. But I felt because of the basis of it, because of the fact that I had studied the high street market and I knew what was missing, that it would have a good chance.
“The physical high street retailers like Topman, River Island, and H&M were foreign and they weren’t speaking our language, I felt. They weren’t speaking to the Irish guy. I felt [the clothes] could be more meaningful and educational and design-led. And they could tell stories.
“I just came with that approach and I felt that it would last in the market. But without Dunnes’ support it would have been almost impossible.
“I’ve a lot of respect for the team in here and for Dunnes as a business. I mean, obviously they gave me this opportunity which I appreciate, but I have also learned a lot from the people in here.
“I see first-hand the level of work and the ability to just pivot and understand the market and adapt to circumstances. It’s just a huge business.”
His collections for Dunnes are often inspired by individuals and last year he released Threads, an engaging book that brings to light these remarkable characters and their stories. Among the subjects are Harry Boland, Jack Butler Yeats and Samuel Beckett.
“It was a very Irish thing once upon a time to be well-presented and well-dressed. It was just about re-establishing those facts. I took a publishing approach and a writer’s approach to the collections. I saw each collection as a chapter. I figured at the end I would have a book. And that was the book.
“Really, it’s all writing to me (his fashion work). It was all in my head anyway. I knew each season was a chapter. They were already written to an extent. I got a lot of it done over lockdown in the car, actually. I did 40 or 50 thousand words in the car. That was quite quick. But then the last part was difficult because we had a new baby and that just took headspace and time and all that.
“I got some good reviews. I probably don’t do enough in that regard to be honest with you, in terms of the marketing and promotion of the thing. It performed pretty well.”
In the book Galvin speaks about the terminology that is used in fashion circles and how it can exclude your average man from rural Ireland. As he forged his way in the industry, he was adamant that a new way of talking about clothes was needed.
“I’d always be conscious of the dressing room, the building site, the team bus, the farm, the truck. I understand the language they speak and then I studied the language of fashion and, sure, it was clear that there was a disconnect. Those guys don’t speak that language. They don’t understand it.
“So I just used language and storytelling to bridge the gap. I have a whole vocabulary around the brand. Words and phrases that I use and words and phrases that I don’t use in any kinds of communications.”
Having said that, he has noticed a shift in attitudes over the past ten years or so when it comes to the way that young men are approaching style.
“I’ve experienced it through emails, DMs, even on the street, young fellas stopping me [to talk about clothes]. You notice it visibly on the streets. You see the trainers guys are wearing and the general style of young fellas.
“That says that they are leaning into it more. They’re not as afraid of it as they were ten years ago. There has definitely been a movement in that regard. It’s just generational, you know?”
THE TEAMWEAR MARKET
Galvin’s days are varied as he balances his Dunnes work with managing his own company, Keohane Athletic Club. Keohane has produced several striking concept jerseys, a number of which are GAA-themed.
For instance, the ‘TRANSATLANTIC’ shirt features a print of the St Louis, a ship that carried GAA teams and Irish emigrants from Cobh to New York in the 1920s and 1930s.
The company is also making strides in the teamwear market, supplying gear to around 30 clubs including collaborations with Austin Stacks and St Brendan’s Board here in Kerry.
“On the Keohane side I’m dealing with clubs and designers and factories directly. Here [in Dunnes] I’m dealing with the team that deals with that stuff. I think it’s important to have that mix. Keohane gives me more exposure to the real difficult part of the business, which Dunnes have been doing for me for years.
“I see Keohane as more of a design agency for sporting organisations, really. It’s big on meaning and storytelling and club history. We want clubs who want to do it this way. It’s tough to do it the way I do it, but it hasn’t been too challenging to find those clubs.”
The Keohane stuff has been well-received but his most high-profile work in this arena to date came via a collaboration with a different brand. In 2017, Kerry GAA brought him in to design their new O’Neills playing kits.
The classy eighties-inspired home shirt and the daring gold and black away became firm favourites with Kerry supporters, so much so that subsequent kit launches have often been greeted with cries of “bring back Galvin”.
He brushes that part off when I mention it but it’s obvious that his work on the project is still a real source of pride.
“I loved working on it, sure. It was a real privilege to work on it for the fact that it was the Kerry jersey, number one, and that I played [for Kerry]. And secondly for the fact that I’m in that business. It was a great opportunity for me and it was great to work alongside O’Neills as well.
“You talk about cultural institutions, they’re another one. You have to respect how long they’re in the business. They’re in it a long time and they have a lot of knowledge.
“I’d love to be doing more of the Kerry jerseys to be honest with you. But that was one opportunity and another opportunity didn’t present itself. So, unfortunately, I don’t have any more input on the jerseys.
“And given I’m in the industry then, obviously I’m looking at the new jerseys coming out. I think I tweeted about the last one and said I didn’t love it. I probably shouldn’t have said that either, but anyway… I suppose part of it is the fact that I’d like to be working on it because I do think that there’s fierce power in a jersey and you’ve got to do your best to harness that and give the team the most powerful garment that you can.”
I could talk to Paul about jerseys all day but I have a train to catch and we haven’t even broached the subject of football. (As it turned out, I missed the train.)
The 43-year-old’s last direct involvement with the game itself was a short spell as coach with Kildare in 2022. Prior to that he managed Wexford, but that stint was also brief. He stepped down in 2020 after less than year at the helm, citing personal and work reasons. With that in mind, I was curious to know if he’s interested in coaching again. His response is firm.
“Definitely. I love doing it and I definitely intend to get back into it. Last year I worked with Kildare behind the scenes on basically their build-up play, which is a big area of the game that I think is kind of unattended. They have a lot of talent there.
“But it was just… It was my mom. My mom got sick in the middle of it and I was pulled away from it. And then she passed the day of the Mayo-Kildare game in the championship. So I just wanted to give time to family after that, d’you know what I mean?
“But yeah, I have a programme that I implement so that’s what I did last year with them. The management understood it. The players understood it. I’ll get back to it soon enough, I’m sure.”
Just coaching, or would a manager’s role be tempting?
“I don’t know. It could be either. It depends on the opportunity. I’m always thankful for opportunities in life. It’s one of the things that I’ve been very blessed with. Working with Dunnes is an example. Working on the Kerry jersey is another example. I’m always, on a daily basis, very aware of the luck that comes with opportunity. When someone picks up the phone and asks you to do X, Y or Z – that’s a privilege.
“In terms of football, we (Paul and his wife, Louise) are back here based in Dublin and we have been since our second girl was born (Elin, a younger sister for Esmé). That has made things a little more difficult for me. I don’t know. It depends on what opportunities present themselves. That will dictate what I do.”
I put it to Paul that between the 2020 and 2021 seasons he was rumoured to have been approached by then Kerry manager Peter Keane about coming on board in some capacity. Kerry were coming off the back of a rough defeat to Cork in the Munster semi-final and Keane was looking for a new face. It was widely reported that Galvin was in line for a coaching position.
While he refused to be drawn on Keane and Kerry specifically, he says he did get calls from some counties and clubs at the time.
“But I was just out of Wexford,” he reflects. “Things were fragmented with Covid and all that. I didn’t feel the timing was great. It was a pity. It was a pity because it was an opportunity to be involved at a high level. Of course that’s where you want to be: at the highest level possible.”
Another factor was that several enquiries – if acted upon – would have placed him in direct competition with Kerry when it came to competing for All-Irelands, which he didn’t want.
I ask if Kerry would appeal more than any other team – before quickly realising that it’s a stupid question and self-correcting. He answers it anyway, in fairness to him.
“Of course, like. You could say that applies to nearly everybody. But I don’t ever get involved in speculation or making statements. Again, it’s a privilege. I think if you’re lucky it might come around and if not… I don’t like to bang any drums about it or make any big statements about it.”
As a player, Galvin was handed his first championship start versus Clare in 2004 by the current Kerry manager, Jack O’Connor. I had heard that the two are still friendly. As he begins to speak about their relationship, he takes a deep breath, as though he’s about to delve into something important.
“God… For me the relationship is just one of respect. I would have full respect for him and a lot of warmth towards him, because Jack is really like a father figure to me in terms of football. He’s one of three men really – my father, Eamonn Fitzmaurice Senior and Jack – who were the big influences on me in my formative years.
“Jack got a hold of me in my late teens/early twenties. Just a huge point of my life. So formatively, in sporting terms, I see Jack as a father figure for sure.
“And then, sure, it becomes a personal development type of thing. He was a huge part of my development as a footballer. He was a huge part of my development as a person. I have a lot of warmth for him. Huge respect for him.
“I think Jack saw me in a county schools final when I was playing for Causeway against what was then Cahersiveen Post-Primary. He was managing them and I got around five points from play from midfield. I was maybe 16 or 17 and I think I was in his head six or seven years later when he got the Kerry job. I was 23 then. So he had me earmarked.”
“He strikes me as a man who knows what he wants,” I offer.
“Exactly. He knows what he wants and he knew from me it was A, B, C. Do A, B and C and we’ll go from there. That was a gift for a player like me because I needed the direction and I needed the coaching.
“Even now, a lot of how I think about football is informed by some of the stuff that I learned from Jack back then.”
With that level of respect and admiration for the man in his heart and mind, Galvin naturally says he was “delighted” that O’Connor was able to steer Kerry to a long-awaited All-Ireland in 2022, in what was his first year back in charge of the team since 2012. But he stops short of calling it the Dromid bainisteoir’s greatest achievement.
“I won’t say it was his best ever year because in 2004 he was exceptional. You’ll remember that the 2004 team won an All-Ireland without Séamus Moynihan and Darragh Ó Sé. And you think of where they were in 2003 after Tyrone did what they did…
“If a fella was to say to you that in 12 months you’ll have the All-Ireland won but you’ll have no Darragh Ó Sé and you’ll have no Séamus Moynihan on the day. You’d be saying to yourself, you must have some exceptional manager or coach in mind if you think that’s going to happen. Right? And that’s what happened.
“So you’re dealing with someone really exceptional. Sure, I saw it first-hand. It was all very drilled and broken down. We were reprogrammed. We were given very specific direction.
“Having said that, I look back at Páidí Ó Sé’s teams and some of the football they played was amazing. A brilliant watch. Some of the football up to 2002… Even going back to the nineties. Jeez it was fantastic football to watch. But what makes you, breaks you in football. Whatever you lean into for a while you’ve got to be quick to get out of it early and push on to something new. That’s for sure. What makes you eventually breaks you.
“But Jack is very intuitive and he’s also optimistic. I always make the distinction between natural optimism and positivity. Optimism is far more powerful. Positivity is almost a commodity now. It can be pretended and it can be acted. Jack was always an optimistic person and optimism can lead you to great places.
“I do think part of that journey he’s on now is his innate intuition and personality.”
The Kingdom have endured a rocky start to the season and they find themselves needing points from at least one of their two remaining Division 1 games against Roscommon and Galway to avoid relegation.
Galvin believes that retaining their All-Ireland crown will prove “challenging” but he takes heart from the number of key players that are now returning from injury.
“I think it’s going to be a difficult year and the league has proven that. But it often goes that way when a year is so perfect, the following year can be the opposite. That’s not to say things will go haywire for Kerry this year but I think it’s going to be challenging. I think it’s going to be the most competitive championship we’ve seen in 10 or 15 years. The hungriest ones have the advantage in that regard.
“Kerry should have hunger but it’ll need to come together now over the next couple of weeks. I’m sure the championship has been the big focus.
“Injuries are obviously going to play a part and they seem to be patching up injuries to an extent. Jack will want competitive A v B games and you don’t get them if you have players carrying knocks and that kind of thing. It affects the competitiveness of your training. That’s where I think every All-Ireland is won.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Galvin has a lot of time for Paudie Clifford. The Fossa captain has been a revelation since being promoted to a starter’s role in 2021, emerging as an essential puller of strings in Kerry’s attack and earning two straight All-Stars in the process.
“I’ve been watching Paudie for a while and I must say there’s a lot to like about him as a player.”
When he mentions Paudie’s name, I automatically ask if there’s a touch of Paul Galvin about him. There is, in my opinion, and I think a lot of Kerry supporters would agree.
“I don’t know. I just like him. I think he’s himself. He’s got his own character. I like everything about him really.
“Obviously you’d be so proud looking at David as well. He’s just a great representation for the county.
“And I think Tony Brosnan has something that not many players have. It’s up to the likes of him this year. I think he will have to have a big year because I do think he’s got a rare talent. He’s got a great appreciation for what’s going on around him. Great ability to pass. He’s an unusual type of player.
“And then Jason Foley being from North Kerry. I like to see that. The North Kerry defenders are always valuable. North Kerry is an important breeding ground for Kerry.
“They’re a very likeable bunch in general so hopefully they’ll have more success.”
In terms of football, things have been relatively lean around North Kerry for a number of years but Galvin was happy to see his former district side, Feale Rangers, reach last year’s county semi-final. The lack of North Kerry footballers making the Kerry panel has been a concern for GAA figures in the area for some time so there is hope that Rangers’ run might signal some kind of a renaissance.
“We’re probably not producing enough players over the last while, but I think that starts with the individual clubs. My own club (Finuge) have a couple of very good young fellas coming through that will hopefully go the distance. Every club has that responsibility to produce the best possible player they can for the county.
“I think Kerry will always need a Finuge player. Clubs produce a certain type of player. There’s a club culture and there’s a county culture. Hopefully we have a couple more in the pipeline.”
He has been to a lot of club games in Dublin and in his wife’s native Mayo in recent years but, interestingly, he rarely goes to see Kerry in action, preferring instead to watch the matches on TV.
“I’d say I’ve been to the [Fitzgerald] Stadium once since I’ve retired. I haven’t been to a whole pile of Kerry games. I just feel like when you’re out of it you just stay out of it – unless you’re back in it.”
I wonder out loud if there’s an emotional reason for that. Maybe, after it being such a huge part of his life for so long, he felt a need to park it. To move on.
“Maybe it’s a rest from it,” he suggests. “For me, I definitely needed a rest from it. I needed to get out of Kerry and move into something new that would occupy my mind and interest me, something I could build and grow and improve at and try to become the best at. I definitely needed that change.
“But I keep a close eye from afar.”
With that I switch off the voice recorder. Another colleague joins us and we chat away for a while. London footwear designer Helen Kirkum is upcycling parts of old sneakers to make new ones. The phone is passed around so we can take a look. “Class,” Galvin says as he scrolls through the photos.
A minute ago we were talking about footballers from Finuge. But it’s all connected. It just comes down to drawing lines and finding parallels.
A red tie affair for Rathmore GAA
By Sean Moriarty Rathmore GAA Club celebrated its most-successful season ever with a gala awards presentation at the weekend. The club celebrated a never-to-be-forgotten 2022 at the Killarney Heights Hotel […]
By Sean Moriarty
Rathmore GAA Club celebrated its most-successful season ever with a gala awards presentation at the weekend.
The club celebrated a never-to-be-forgotten 2022 at the Killarney Heights Hotel and honoured some of its star players that led both club and county to national success over the last 12 months.
Former Kerry footballer, Aidan O’Mahony, who announced his retirement from football late last year, was honoured for his commitment to the club over the years.
The club won three major titles last season and the Kerry, Munster and All-Ireland Intermediate Championship cups were on display. The management team of Tim Cronin, Denis Moynihan and Dan O’Sullivan were also honoured on the night.
“It was an absolutely marvellous night and one to be remembered – we had a highly successful year to celebrate,” club PRO Diarmuid McCarthy told the Killarney Advertiser.
The club also supplied two players to Jack O’Connor’s All-Ireland-winning Kerry team and both Kerry goalkeeper Shane Ryan and half-back Paul Murphy were also recognised on the night.
“Our two county players had a wonderful year,” said Diarmuid.
Brian Friel was named as the Club Player of the Year and the prestigious Club Person of the Year award went to secretary Mike Cronin.
“It was richly deserved, I don’t know how Mike keeps on top of everything,” added the PRO.
Minor Fionn Murphy was also honoured after he won an All Star award for Kerry last season.
The club PRO thanked the organising committee, Deborah Daly, Emma Copper-Buckley, Tim O’Brien, Fintan Twomey and Don Casey for putting on an event that “was organised to a tee”.
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