Does Clifford need to be Kerry captain to be a Kingdom leader?

Does Clifford need to be Kerry captain to be a Kingdom leader?

The Bishop Moynihan Cup hadn’t been ferried down the hallway to the East Kerry quarter underneath the stand at Austin Stack Park before chat over the Kerry captaincy for 2020 struck up.

For the majority of Kerry GAA followers, even something as fundamental as the county final is merely a segue to more importance matters of state and a 38th All-Ireland. There were 8,256 paying patrons at yesterday’s decider in Tralee, won convincingly by East Kerry, but one thousand, and probably more, were there because David Clifford was playing.

With admission costing €20 for adults, the mathematics aren’t that challenging to put a value on this wunderkind to Kerry GAA. And if Clifford added twenty grand to Kerry’s coffers, then one can fully appreciate the decision of the county executive to block live coverage of the game on TG4.

Whether it was the correct decision is not the question here — the real poser is whether the All-Star forward, who grabbed 1-3 and handed another goal on a plate to Darragh Roche, should be in line to be Kerry captain in 2020.

Or maybe that should be in the firing line.

That it is up for debate at all is a consequence of the clapped-out method of selecting inter-county captains in Kerry. The right of the county champions to nominate was an issue again ventilated at county board level in 2019 but the traditionalists held sway, ensuring that East Kerry will nominate Kerry’s 2020 captain.

We’ve been here before, and if there are moves to ensure that 2020 is the final year the system is employed in Kerry, it won’t be before time.

There have been sufficient unfortunate examples of unsuitable skippers in the Kingdom over the past couple of decades to inform a change of mindset and approach on the issue.

Jack Sherwood, the East Kerry defensive linchpin, is an obvious contender for the captaincy but that presupposes he is a certain starter — and the captain should be a lock on the teamsheet.

David Clifford is all that of course, but he will be the most scrutinised footballer in Ireland next year — if he’s not already — and adding responsibility and pressure of the Kerry ‘armband’ is surely a persuasive reason not toappoint him skipper just yet.

The solution for next year at least might be Rathmore’s Paul Murphy. His club has been relegated from the senior ranks this season, and will return to the East Kerry amalgamation in 2020. David Moran apart, he is arguably the clear and obvious leader in terms of form and experience.

And it’s not like he won’t be starting.

It wasn’t just the spectators chewing over the issue yesterday — the East Kerry Board will give it their fullest attention over the next number of weeks in tandem with the progress of their own local O’Donoghue Cup, which may help to inform their thinking.

Those who advance the case of Clifford do so on the basis that he eats pressure for breakfast, that it is for tyres, not for this lavish talent. That he will inspire those around him by his deeds if not his words.

And as Exhibit A, they may point to the 33rd minute of yesterday’s decider when he picked up possession some 40 yards shy of the Horan End goal. Three Dr Crokes defenders attempted to guide him, shepherd and usher him onto his right side, and when he declined their offer and moved inside to the trafficked centre lane, it appeared momentarily like the chance was gone.

That everyone could drop down onto their seats.

Of course not. He deposited the ball venomously into the far corner (upper rigging) with such effect that the comic strips would add the obligatory ‘whoosh’ to the money shot.

And for one brief moment the crowd was united, irrespective whether they were in the covered stand or soaked on the open terrace, that whatever they paid to get in, heck it was worth it for that.

Presuming Clifford has already acquired that rare ability to discern the pivotal moment of a game is a stretch.

But there’s little doubt his goal was the game’s key moment, its most timely intervention. East Kerry had changed ends 0-8 to 0-5 in front, but two minutes after the break, their wing back Pa Warren was sent to the line for a second yellow card offence.

The Dr Crokes manager Edmond O’Sullivan admitted after that they were just formulating a new strategy with Gavin White as the free man when Clifford rendered the discussion moot.

Something else about David Clifford. No more than his brother Paudie (23), yesterday’s man of the match, there’s a fiery side to him that neither licked off the stones. But two seasons at the business end of inter-county championship has smoothed out some temperamental edges and the All Star walked away from a few bits of bother yesterday.

The brothers were both booked shortly after David’s goal when things got salty enough for referee Brendan Griffin to spray a few yellows — and a red card to Dr Crokes midfielder Mark O’Shea. The net result of a dramatic three minutes was a momentum short-circuit for Dr Crokes and an abrupt end to the bid for a second four in a row this decade.

In all this Clifford coronation, one should not forget what formidable and proud champions of Kerry Crokes have been. Seven times since 2010, nothing in the Kingdom has mastered them, club or division, and if they looked dishevelled and beaten yesterday, one must not overlook the wearying effect of those long summers and longer winters. The losses of attackers David Shaw and Jordan Kiely were significant too.

They won’t sit quietly for long, but yesterday the vibrancy and energy of East Kerry was a dominant theme from the early exchanges. Spa’s Mike Foley owned the first quarter and his club mate Evan Cronin was a decent shout for man of the match with four points. Defensively, Chris O’Donoghue and Niall Donohue excelled and rangy midfielder Liam Kearney mixed up his game well.

Crokes were oddly inaccurate with their first-half shooting, and the David Clifford goal was followed by a second on 44 minutes when he handed the finish to Darragh Roche to make it 2-11 to 0-6.

Roche could be one of the spring options for Peter Keane’s Kerry. Paudie Clifford almost certainly will be, as will Crokes’ Tony Brosnan, the corner-forward arrowing over a couple of delightful first-half points.

But outside, as the crowds filed down Boherbee and headed east out of Tralee, the opposition No 13 was the top and the tail of the winter talk.

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