David Clifford: ‘You can’t let the result from the weekend affect the rest of your week, or else it’s a slog of a life’

A year on from the death of Ellen Clifford, Kerry will face Clare in another Munster football final

The last thing David Clifford needs any reminding of is the timing of Kerry’s repeat Munster football final against Clare, coming as it does on the first anniversary of the death of his and older brother Paudie’s mother, Ellen.

Despite that inconsolable loss, on the eve of last year’s final, they both lined out in the 14-point win over Clare at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick, where David, who was also last year’s captain, scored 2-6 – a man-of-the-match performance in more ways than one.

Both brothers admitted afterwards there was never any question of them not playing. Only,now, a year on – and with Kerry playing Clare again on Sunday week, May 5th – David admits for much of that day he was on autopilot.

“It was mom’s birthday a couple of weeks back,” he says of Ellen, who was always known for her unwavering support of her sons, attending all their games since the brothers were knee-high.


“The first of everything is very tough – Christmas and all of that. Subconsciously, you’re going through the different phases of it, where you don’t want to think about it. And then you’re in a place now where, well you can think about it a bit more ... think about the good times, as opposed to trying to put it out of your head.

“There are just different phases you go through. It’s strange all right but you just have to plough on, simple as.”

In some ways, he says, the distraction was welcome. “The game, that day, wasn’t the end of the world,” he says. “While we wanted to play and we wanted to win, we were still conscious of where we were at in the season. In a weird way, you were nearly like invincible for a few weeks, because it didn’t really matter what happened. You were at the bottom, so whatever else happened ...

“So yeah, it was difficult. But we were delighted for the distraction of the games too. It’s on the downtime that maybe thoughts can creep in.”

For Clifford, the 25-year-old now in his seventh season with Kerry after making his senior debut in 2018, any talk of trying to time things differently this year is gently played down. There is a perception Kerry were somewhat tired come last year’s All-Ireland final loss to Dublin, but he says every season is played on its own merits.

“The games really force your hand into when you train. Like, you don’t train hard the week of a league game. Personally, we weren’t back until late last year, because of the Fossa run [losing the Kerry intermediate final]. That’s different I suppose, personally, but you can’t just go out, use the term shadow boxing or whatever.

“If you take that approach, you’ll get turned over. This thing of peaking later in the year, a subconscious mental thing, I’m not sure to be honest. I genuinely think we just take it game by game.”

Speaking in Croke Park at the announcement of football championship sponsor SuperValu’s inclusiveness campaign, Clifford also points to his own changing commitments over the course of the season, given he’ll still be teaching at St Brendan’s in Killarney until the end of May.

“It’s tricky. Last week was ideal, we were in school all week, the game was Saturday, we’d a full day of work on the Friday, suddenly it’s Friday evening. Quick gym session, then it’s a normal Friday night.

“It can be trickier in the summer, when you’re off, there are only so many ways you can pass the day. But it would be important trying to be as busy as possible.

“We have our own individual targets, that you want to hit, percentages of shots you want to get, percentage of attacks that you want to get shots out of, all that kind of stuff.

“Being focused on that does make it a bit easier, takes the occasion out of the game. I’m always hearing that process, and target word, but that’s kind of the way to do it. You always hear Pep [Guardiola] saying if you take the emotion out of the game, so that’s probably the way we try to manage it.

“And you can’t let the result from weekend affect the rest of your week, or else it’s a slog of a life for the 15 years you’re playing intercounty football.

“You have to try to distance yourself from it a small bit. If you win well, play well, you’ll be in good form, but you can’t be dependent on that. Everything else, outside the pitch, has to be going as well as possible, with so much else going on, otherwise things become over-consuming, and it would be too much.

“And I’d watch The Sunday Game, to see the highlights. It’s interesting, when you’re inside of a bubble, it’s probably no harm to see what the opinions are.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics