Maturing Clifford keeping his feet firmly on the ground

He’s wary. A 19-year-old like David Clifford has to be but he’s not shy in providing a few details. No, he doesn’t require a shoulder operation and should be available to Kerry from the outset of the new season.

Yes, he does have inspirations.

Celtic: “We picked it up a bit this year after a slow start. We’re still alive in the Europa League.”

Ronnie O’Sullivan: “He’d be very stylish, of course, and just a good character.”

While Colm Cooper was a homegrown hero for him; “I totally idolised him growing up and still do and it is more a case of trying to imitate a lot of the things he did when he played for Kerry. It is great to have idols.”

Jamie Clarke that he looked up to most. “I suppose it is a bit of a funny one, the player I would really have looked up to was Armagh’s Jamie Clarke. He is just very classy. I would have remembered certain things he would have done on the field and then I used to try and do them. He had so much stylishness in his play that I always admired it.”

How Clifford put away that goal in Clones in July had the mark of Clarke. Keeping his county’s Championship hopes alive was plenty for a teenager but he doesn’t look back on the season with too much anger, as frustrating as it ended. “It was a great year personally, it went well, but for Kerry we did not end up where we wanted to be. It was a tough year but it was a great year too.”

You get the sense there is balance in Clifford’s life. For all that he has accomplished and likely will, there’s a humility that serves him well. “There are loads of fellas out there, be it my friends and people in the club, who’d bring you back down to earth if they thought you were getting too big-headed.

You try and avoid the hype and that is what I tend to do. I come from a very strong GAA family and the big message from my father (Diarmuid) was always to stay grounded.

Throughout that period where he was consistently linked with a move to an AFL club, it was what helped him most. “I try and not deal with a lot of that stuff. I would let my father deal with that kind of stuff and if he needed to talk to me and ask me about it, he would, but otherwise I just try and stay away from all that.”

As delighted as he is to now work with Peter Keane, the value of a season under Éamonn Fitzmaurice is not lost on Clifford. “I will be forever thankful to Eamonn for giving me the chance. The professionalism of that man is something to behold, it is ridiculous in that every single minor little detail was covered. He was unbelievable. The Kerry players know how thankful we are to him.

“I was not going so well in the league and he stuck with me. I started in the first championship game then and that was a massive lift for me. It relieved a small bit of the pressure, the fact that I was in. He was unbelievable.”

But the attraction of working with Keane again is not difficult to recognise. “I worked with Peter for two years so it should be an exciting few years ahead. It’s great that Peter is the man at the helm.”

Clifford had expected it but what opened his eyes from his debut senior season was the attention from the opposition. “You have a bit less time on the ball and when you’re getting hits they’re coming a bit faster and a bit stronger. That was the tough side of it. It’s about trying not to react as much as you can. You’re going to get things like that.

You know you’re going to get that stuff but it’s one thing to reach the final prize at the end of it and you’re probably willing to do anything to get there.

Not that he’s complaining but similar to some of his fellow inside forwards such as Conor McManus, he believes a second referee would be beneficial. “It’s an impossible job for a ref, in fairness, and a second ref would just bring an extra bit of help. It would help with some of the off-the-ball things but it would be great for general things. Two referees can see more than one and it might lessen some of the negativity around referees.”

Clifford could, in time, be joined in the senior county set-up by his older brother, Paudie who had a fine 2018 season with Fossa, East Kerry and Kerry’s juniors. Having somebody as inspirational as Seamus Moynihan as club senior manager has proven to be immeasurably helpful.

“In fairness, everything he gives to Fossa and Glenflesk, he’s just unbelievable. It’s hard to believe the time he puts in. It’s obviously not his club but it’s unbelievable.”

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