David Clifford quickly claiming the mantle of former Kerry greats
Memories of Maurice Fitzgerald in his pomp were evoked by the youngster in Clones
Kerry’s David Clifford celebrates scoring the dramatic late equalising goal against Monaghan in Clones. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Maurice Fitzgerald strolled past David Clifford moments before Sunday’s tumultuous affair in Clones, just as the 19-year-old seemed to balloon a shot that suddenly caught the wind before sailing clean over the bar.
Fitzgerald paid no heed, too focused on Kieran Donaghy finding his rhythm just as the PA confirmed the 35-year-old would start ahead of James O’Donoghue, but others were temporarily transported back to Semple Stadium in 2001. By the end Mikey Sheehy’s 1987 goal against Cork also got a mention. All the greats sprang to mind.
Jack O’Shea is right about the similar movements of Clifford and Maurice Fitz; long arms with that Neolithic gait. Same inhuman shooting techniques.
“First time I saw David was at under-14s and he was a revelation,” remembered John Evans, the Wicklow and former Fossa manager before last year’s minor final.
“Reminded me a bit of Ciarán Kilkenny; a strong lad, can score with both legs, with a lot expected of him but he rose to the occasion every time.”
That was also the season he displayed grit rarely associated with adults never mind a 13-year-old. Injured before a semi-final against Cork, coach Seán O’Sullivan recently told The Sunday Times what Clifford said to the management:
“You start me. I’ll do something. I’ll keep them busy inside and it’ll free up somebody else.” Dominating at every grade, a stunning 4-4 in last year’s All-Ireland minor final guaranteed instant promotion to senior championship. The problem with looking like a man amongst boys is how you cope when actual, hulking Monaghan men, like Drew Wylie and Vinny Corey, come into view.
“The first genuine superstar of Gaelic football to come along in a long time,” Joe Brolly told the nation on The Sunday Game on Sunday night, as Clifford displayed his magnificence in Clones. How quickly Diarmuid Connolly, never mind the hardly extinct Gooch Cooper can be discarded.
Sunday’s season saving moments, when he registered 1-3, interrupted an experience otherwise spent in the bruising grips of Kieran Duffy. Every trick in the corner back’s bag was used but to no avail come Clifford’s majestic final contribution.
There were many remarkable individual displays during in this dramatic 1-17 draw – Donaghy’s finger-stretching tip down; Rory Beggan’s 0-4 from long range and Cluxton-like levels of accuracy; a Herculean 1-9 by Conor McManus; Gavin White’s return despite a sickening collision with David Moran; Karl O’Connell’s composure; 20-year-old Seán O’Shea’s 0-8 – but the Clifford scores were each breathtaking.
Duffy had him tortured and eventually both men saw yellow following a gruesome, throat-clasping exchange that prompted Clifford to examine the stitching of the Monaghan number two jersey. Still, the teenager went under the stand at half-time with two gems off his left foot.
His third point on the hour mark, when Kerry trailed by five, was so far out on the right that Duffy seemed comfortable to permit a swing of the leg. It bounced off an empty seat half way up the rows behind Beggan’s goal. Hughes commended the score with another heavy thump.
Entering injury-time Monaghan led by three points to force Éamonn Fitzmaurice, with Maurice Fitz by his side, to play every last card available to Kerry. O’Donoghue had replaced the anonymous Paul Geaney but the Kerry management reintroduced the Dingle forward again for the last few seconds.
Darren O’Sullivan had also arrived and knew to seek out Donaghy. Corey prevailed all but once. Perhaps to their eternal regret, Monaghan opted to play keep ball instead of pressing for insurance scores.
So followed the Kerry goal. From 55 metres out to the left O’Donoghue’s lofted ball, with back spin, came diagonally down upon Donaghy and Corry. Freeze the frame to see Clifford running through the middle but a change of direction, momentarily eluding Duffy, allows him gather the break and shoot with his right foot (0-3 came off his left).
Hughes dives towards the forward’s toe yet, almost impossibly, the ball travels through the miniscule space clogged by eight bodies, with Donaghy lying prone, as it finishes in the far corner. Clifford leaps away in pure delight.
“Maurice came into a Kerry team that drastically needed him,” said Seán O’Sullivan a few weeks ago. “The county needed him. Kerry were looking for someone to cling to. David isn’t coming into a team starved of stars or forwards, and that’s great for him. There’s a bit of pressure because of the minor exploits, but it’s not the same as Maurice.”
But it feels very similar to the second coming now.