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David Clifford owes it to himself to consider any AFL offers

Carping over Colm Cooper’s testimonial should be a timely warning for young star

David Clifford celebrates Kerry’s victory over Derry after his outstanding contribution of 4-4 in the All-Ireland minor football final at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

It’s a middle-aged cliché to imagine being 18 again so it’s David Clifford’s good fortune to be living what must be a lot of people’s dream right now.      

Widely regarded as the finest raw talent Gaelic football has seen in years, his eventual ascension to the pantheon of senior GAA greats is being anticipated in the way brilliant two-year-old champion racehorses are presumed to win the Derby.

What’s different about Clifford’s potential is the widespread presumption from even the flintiest of Kerry’s cold-eyed football gurus that he’s the real deal, the Kingdom’s Nijinsky rather than some fleeting Arazi.

Great footballers get worshipped to idolatry in Kerry anyway. But the hope invested in this latest beau ideal can be gauged by the levels of relief at recent reports he hasn’t been lured to Australian Rules. Or at least not yet.  

Possessed of the skill and football intelligence s of a ‘Gooch’ Cooper but blessed also with the size to physically impose himself if necessary, it would be remarkable if Clifford isn’t on top of the AFL’s recruitment wish-list for some time to come.

In the meantime, since scoring 4-4 in last month’s All-Ireland minor final rout, it seems nothing is rated beyond him when it comes to Gaelic football. His reputation is both pristine and peerless. Actual awe mightn’t surround him but it’s something close.     

He’s young, bright, supremely talented, never wanting for company and possessed of options most everyone else can only dream of. It’s something of a state of sporting grace for the young man and you don’t have to be bitter and old to point out how that doesn’t last forever.

Clifford will probably get the winter out of it before anticipation turns to expectation and the chances increase of him finding out how fame without fortune can be the worst of both worlds even in as relatively tiny a context as Irish sport.

Clifford’s outrageous talent has already made him public property to an unprecedented extent for a player his age. Even if he doesn’t want to play the public game he has no choice. Whatever he does or says is now news, material for old farts like me to pontificate on.

Now maybe Clifford is of a generation that enjoys such attention although the one interview I’ve seen indicates a modest and likeable young fella hardly yearning for limelight. Maybe he thrives under the sort of pressure professional sportsman get paid to tolerate. Or maybe he doesn’t.

Sentimental card

Either way though he has already learned how one price of attention is unsolicited opinion such as this.

 GAA grandees will beat their backs about Clifford heeding their counsel and choosing to stay at home rather than switching to a league with an average player salary of $300,000. That’s because the young man has unwittingly become one of those GAA tropes, the symbol of what we are.  

 Much of this essence of Gaeldom stuff is often middle-aged indulgence pedalled by those best able to steer virtuous volunteerism to their own advantage.

 So here’s another a piece of free advice to David Clifford that’s admittedly light on credibility but is at least agenda-free; if in future an outstanding offer does comes your way from Australia you have to seriously consider making your arse a blur on the way to the airport.

Yes a little bit of Kerry’s football soul will die a little but not doubt it will recover to deal its sentimental card to the next tyro.  

Clifford may owe something to those closest to him but not near as much as he owes himself the opportunity to keep his options open, especially in a scenario where he appears to have so much to gain and little or nothing to lose.

He’s still in the driving seat in terms of the AFL, maybe even more so now that he has hesitated; no one appreciates the fish that jumps into the boat. He can have any clause he wants put in a contract, a hefty salary, car, flights, an opportunity to experience professional sport as well as securing an invaluable experience in life. Who can’t dream of what it must be like to have such options at 18.   

Certainly only real county board Gaels can expect to continually sway the best young GAA talent with little more than sentiment, especially in an environment becoming ever more unsentimental.

Because the reality is that while Clifford is the young God now he’s one bad injury away from irrelevance and only a couple of bad mistakes away from fawning public attention turning to ‘ooo bollocks’ derision.   

And in a purely football sense what has talent here got to look forward to except increasing levels of institutional cynicism justified as tactical worldliness which leaves the gifted to fend for themselves in the face of ignorance and brutality.

Not only that but failure to react with anything but preternatural stoicism triggers even more intense scrutiny by media itching to flex self-aggrandising commentary on what is essentially an amateur hobby.

In such circumstances a tungsten-hard neck is required to argue that any youngster on the AFL’s radar has some duty to put up with this stuff for free in order to preserve GAA illusions about volunteerism.     

The ridiculous furore around ‘Gooch’ Cooper’s testimonial, with its God-awful piety about Kerry’s previous football genius trying to generate a few quid for himself, is a timely tutorial for Clifford on how fleeting states of grace can be.

Reports indicate he hasn’t ruled out going to the AFL in future. It’s not hard to see why. Logically it represents a perfect each way bet. Even if it doesn’t work out he can come back to the GAA richer, wiser and without regrets. And sad to say an even greater middle-aged cliché is pondering ‘if only’.