By Tony Leen, Sports Editor of the Irish Examiner
Kerry’s teenage football prospect David Clifford has committed to the Kingdom for next season, turning down the opportunity of a start with an AFL club in Australia.
The Fossa starlet has been at the centre of a charm offensive by Kerry GAA amid concerns he would be lost to Aussie Rules, like Dingle’s Mark O’Connor in 2015.
It is understood that Clifford, who turns 19 in January, has decided to stay at home and will attempt to advance straight from minor to senior with the county in 2018.
Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice has held discussions with Clifford, while U20 coach Jack O’Connor has also been involved with GAA board chairman Tim Murphy to ensure one of the most exciting talents in the GAA is not lost to Australia.
If Clifford makes Kerry’s senior championship panel under Fitzmaurice next summer, he would be ineligible for O’Connor’s Under 20 squad.
Sources familiar with the situation explained that Clifford and his family weighed up the key factors — his age, his desire to progress in the green and gold jersey, and the fact the AFL will still be an option for the next few years, before arriving at their decision.
Clifford lit up the minor championship for the past two seasons, captaining Kerry to their fourth successive All-Ireland in the grade last month, and scoring 4-4 in the final.
Though the jump from minor to senior is considerable, and seems to have been overlooked in the stampede to parachute Clifford straight into Kerry’s 2018 senior attack, it would be a surprise if he didn’t figure in Fitzmaurice’s early season and League plans at least.
Meanwhile, more than 800 people gathered in Killarney’s Gleneagle Hotel last night to pay tribute to Clifford’s greatest hero, Colm Cooper. The Kerry legend launched his autobiography, Gooch, with his club manager, Pat O’Shea — who led Kerry to their 2007 All-Ireland title — describing Cooper as “the greatest footballer in the history of the GAA”.
Cooper will make an appearance on tonight’s Late Late Show before knuckling down to the important business of a Kerry SFC semi-final against West Kerry tomorrow in Killarney.
His club and Kerry colleague Kieran O’Leary said that often his colleagues simply ‘rode on Gooch’s coat-tails, while Cooper himself, in an emotional address, described his family as ‘the most important thing in my life – my rock.”
The autobiography, published by Transworld, is in bookshops from yesterday.