What we are witnessing with David Clifford is a once in a generation reaction to a phenomenal talent

He now exists in that rarefied air of sportspeople that have a specific pressure only they have to bear

The sold-out signs in Coolyroe had gone up long before last Saturday for Fossa against Castlemahon in the Munster junior football championship. A one-way traffic system had been put in place for the day. A game at the end of November, and yet here it was – demand officially outstripped supply.

His 31st game of the year was much like every other game he had played so far this year. Once again, David Clifford was the main attraction. He was up against the Limerick junior champions, who had Séamus Flanagan lining out at centre forward for them. But looking at a gallery of photographs from the day on the Limerick Leader website, it was clear that the result was almost of secondary importance.

Among the sea of happy faces, there’s a photograph post-match of Clifford with his arm around (four-time All-Ireland winner and All Star) Flanagan, who honestly looks absolutely delighted to be in the presence of the man. I presume the power dynamic would be rather different if it was hurling they were playing, but it still made me laugh.

We can say a lot about the GAA year of 2022, but if David Clifford was a star at the start of this year, I don’t know what we can call him as November turns to December.


He only scored two points from play, with two more coming from frees against Castlemahon on Saturday, and was hauled off in disgrace with 12 minutes to go by his manager, who I’m sure was disgusted by this unforgivable dip in performance levels. But judging by the photos, no one felt short-changed. Similar to Las Vegas motels that claim to have had Elvis Presley as a guest, Quaid Park might be investigating the possibility of putting up a plaque.

Clifford the younger spoke to the Irish Examiner after the game and was asked about the amount of games he’s played so far this year. “Of course, there is a bit of tiredness creeping in now but the management have been brilliant when we needed a training session off now and then”. I can imagine that conversation being fairly short and sweet.

‘I’m not really feeling it tonight, boss.’

‘That’s all right David, and don’t worry about Thursday either if you don’t feel any different, we’ll see you on Sunday.’

That would be a reaction hardly unique to Adrian Sheehan, his manager at club level. In the same situation, Jack O’Connor might even be of a mind to say something similar, even if he is Kerry captain next year.

Clifford is missing out on the Kerry team’s end of year trip to Dubai and Mauritius next weekend, to focus on the Munster final on December 11th against Kilmurry of Cork – “Fossa comes first”, as he said on Saturday – and he could well have two more games before the year is out, as the All-Ireland semi-final is fixed for the following weekend.

Thirty-three games in a calendar year is a lot of football, and it has been painted as a major problem for the GAA by Pat Spillane and others ... but really, the more games he plays, the better. Opponents of the split-season concerned about a lack of exposure for our best players haven’t joined the Clifford circus caravan.

Kerry and Fossa now find themselves in a similar scenario to Santos in the 1960s and 70s, which is to say – we have Pelé, now how do we ensure as many people as possible see him in the flesh? It was thinking like this that brought Pelé all the way to Dalymount Park in 1972.

But we’ve seen it all summer, even after the All-Ireland final. People really did plan their week’s holidays in Kerry around Fossa and East Kerry games. This is a genuinely phenomenal, once in a generation reaction to one player.

My mother and father were driving home from Knock at the start of the year and took a detour towards Ballyhaunis (I’d like to say there was a specific reason for the detour but they’re retired, so they do what they like on the roads). As they were passing the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence in Bekan, they saw a couple of buses pulled in, and athletic looking bodies milling about the air dome.

Being incurable GAA lunatics, they parked up themselves, made discreet enquiries, and realised that right there, on a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of January, they were about to get a chance to see the man himself playing for UL against Letterkenny IT.

It was like they had stumbled on to a final dress rehearsal for Olivier playing Hamlet. They couldn’t believe their luck. They took their seat for the royal performance, and Clifford promptly scored 2-7.

Clifford now exists in that rarefied air of sportspeople that have a specific pressure only they have to bear – which is a pressure to perform every week, no matter what the occasion, because this might be the day someone has travelled 200 miles just to see you play. Keep an eye on local listings for a showing near you.