No fear of second-year syndrome for Kerry’s David Clifford
Skilful forward looking ahead to a long summer in his second year on the senior panel
Kerry’s David Clifford at Croke Park. “Last year was a great experience. Just the grounding is kind of over, I know what to expect.” Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
If a 20-minute interview with David Clifford reveals one thing about the Kerry star it’s that his occasionally wild and youthful flamboyance on the field of play doesn’t necessarily follow him off of it.
Instead there is a modest and closely-guarded side to Clifford which certainly fits a player of maturity far beyond his 20 years. Maybe it’s what happens when you’re hailed as the next great Kerry footballer before you’ve even played your first senior game.
As a teenager Clifford finished 2018 as Young Footballer of the Year, with a senior All Star nomination to boot. Elevated into the senior team after back-to-back minor All-Irelands, in 2016 and 2017, that also set him up for what might be a difficult second senior season.
So far, so good; a shoulder injury did sideline Clifford during the early rounds of the league, but he’s showing no lingering effects of that now.
Clifford chipped in with three scores in Kerry’s Munster semi-final win over Clare on Saturday evening, and even if their six-point victory margin fell short of their 22-point advantage in the same game a year ago, there’s no reason to fear his impact on the games ahead.
With that properly meteoric rise also came inevitable rumour, starting with talk of a move to Australian Rules Football, perhaps following in the footsteps of 2015 All-Ireland minor winner Mark O’Connor, now well settled into the Geelong club.
What exactly was the level of interest?
“Nothing at all, to be honest,” says Clifford.
“I’d say a lot of it was just talk, and word just kind of got around then, I don’t know where from. I was very focused, once Eamonn Fitzmaurice gave me the call, to break into the team. I didn’t want it to be a distraction. Not that it was a distraction, because I didn’t even let it become that.”
He is however impressed by O’Connor’s progress Down Under.
“He’s flying this year, in fairness to him, seems to have made a great decision. But like I said, I was just focused on trying to break into the Kerry team.”
Might he ever reconsider if the AFL came back looking?
“It’s not something I’ve put too much thought into, to be honest. I’m fairly focused on what I’m doing at the moment. So not in the near future, I wouldn’t see it happening.
“Obviously it probably would be great if you could give 100 per cent of your time to it [football]. I don’t think anyone every questions it. If you were questioning it, I don’t think you’d be doing it. It’s what you want to do, so there’s no problem with it.”
Clifford could be reminded of both sides of the AFL experience: Kerry team -mate and 2008 Young Footballer of the Year Tommy Walsh returned home early, partly due to injury, and only eventually found his way back into Kerry football.
By his own admission Clifford was at one point more likely to be lost to soccer, playing for Killarney Celtic during his early teenage years, and at one point dreaming of a big move to England.
“I played a lot of soccer yeah, with Killarney Celtic, we’d a few great years, played a load of soccer to be honest, and it was great. I played some Kennedy Cup as well, and everybody in the Kennedy Cup thought they were going to be signed. Actually there was one player with us who went to Brighton, and he was unbelievable. But after that settled down, we saw the reality, and Kerry was the focus then.”
Speaking in Croke Park as ambassador for Avonmore Protein Milk, Clifford appears to have filled out again from last year, and admits the enforced break afforded him the chance to address any further weaknesses in his 20-year-old body.
“Hopefully, I’m done with it. It’s hard to know, it’s an overhead sport, so shoulder injuries are very common but hopefully it’ll be sorted now. I was just an impact injury.”
Just finished with third year in IT Tralee, studying health and leisure, Clifford has the summer to focus almost entirely on football, the only immediate concern for now being the Munster final against Cork, again set for Páirc Uí Chaoimh, on Saturday June 22nd.
Nothing about being hailed as the next great Kerry footballer has slowed his progress so far.
“I suppose last year was a great experience. Just the grounding is kind of over, I know what to expect. It’s about trying to perform consistently now. I just tried not to take too much notice of it, what talk was going on, just keep the head down, get a place on the team, that was my focus. I don’t think anything else that was going on outside was important to me.
“The big thing was the physicality of it, needing to be nice and strong and compact to be able to take the hits. Fitter, faster, stronger was probably a big thing yeah. I’m of the era of where we have been doing some sort of strength and conditioning since maybe we were U14 or so with development squads and stuff so we are probably very used to it.”