Kerry will inevitably feature high on that list and when Kilkenny pictures the Kingdom forwards in 2018, he sees David Clifford among them.
It’s only last weekend that the young Fossa forward delivered one of the great minor final performances, perhaps the best ever, when he scored 4-4 from play in their win over Derry.
Yet the feeling is that the six-foot-two-inch Tralee IT student is ready for the senior ranks straight away.
“I don’t think he’s far away from that level, yeah,” nodded Peter Keane, Kerry’s minor manager.
“That’s not trying to put pressure on him, or anyone else, but I do think he’s not a million miles from it.”
Eamonn Fitzmaurice has so far only handed Championship starts to two players who won All-Ireland minor titles between 2014 and 2017; BrianÓ Beaglaoich and Tom O’Sullivan.
Yet there’s another reason why Fitzmaurice might see fit to call up Clifford shortly and guarantee that he’s firmly in his plans for next year, to keep him out of the clutches of Aussie Rules scouts.
A Tweet from the AFL’s official account noted Clifford’s excellence against Derry and suggested that he would ‘come onto the radar of several AFL clubs’.
Contained in the Tweet was a link to a story in which Clifford was described as ‘Ireland’s potential next great AFL export’.
Clifford wouldn’t be human if his head wasn’t turned and he could do worse than put a call through to Kilkenny who found himself in a similar situation.
Talked of in similar terms as a minor, Kilkenny scored seven points in the 2011 minor final, won an All-Ireland U21 medal in 2012 and then made his senior Championship debut before jetting off to play for Hawthorn.
Only he didn’t, play for them that is. After a couple of months of pre-season he picked up his anchor and dropped it back down in Dublin. For good. Nearly five years on, he is a four-time All-Ireland medal winner and doesn’t regret anything about his decision.
“David Clifford is an incredible talent and it’s up to him at the end of the day,” said Kilkenny. “Does he want to go? I don’t know. If it appeals to him he should go and see it but it’s up to him. I went over and I experienced it. Personally, I think he’ll want to play for Kerry. That’s what I think. He’s an incredible athlete and an incredible talent. I think he’d probably excel in anything he did. But he’s a Gaelic footballer. If he wants to experience it, go and experience it and see if it is for him. But I think he’ll want to play for Kerry. He’s grown up playing Gaelic football. He’s been dreaming of playing for Kerry ever since he was a young lad.”
Most Irish players who come home early from Australia are overcome by homesickness.
Kilkenny has always insisted that wasn’t the case for him.
“I didn’t really miss my parents when I was out there!” he smiled in early 2013 shortly after his return.
He simply came to the realisation that when Gaelic football, and hurling, was taken away, he couldn’t live without it.
“I loved the training, it was brilliant,” said Kilkenny. “But I just wanted to play for Dublin, to play for as long as I can and give back as much as I can to my county. All my friends are at home. To be in a situation to represent Dublin and then, luckily enough, to have won a few All-Irelands since I came home, it’s been great. To spend time in the dressing-room and make those special memories that I have with team-mates, you can’t beat that. You only live once.”
Clifford, of course, isn’t the only young Irishman being watched by AFL teams and scouts. In the article that was referenced in the Tweet about Clifford last weekend, a list of rising GAA stars were discussed, including Kerry’s 2016 minor finalists David Shaw and Stefan Okunbor.
“There were 13 Irishmen on AFL lists this season although West Coasts’s Paddy Brophy quit in April to return home,” the article read.
“Cillian McDaid and Stefan Okunbor are attending the NAB AFL Draft Combine in October while countrymen David Shaw and Evan Murphy joined them in training with the AFL academy in Florida in January. North Melbourne also trialled Irish pair Rian O’Neill and Jack Kennedy in August with a view to potentially signing at least one of them as an international rookie.”
All eyes will be on Clifford though and what decision he makes having been recently labelled by Kerry great Jack O’Shea as the greatest player he’s ever seen at that age.
“He’s very strong, powerful, has great hands, a nice soft touch,” said Kilkenny.
Current Kerry All Star Paul Geaney observed during the week that with most Irish players competing as half-backs in the AFL, Clifford mightn’t necessarily be suited to their game.
The AFL article, published on their website, picks up on this theme with an unnamed ‘expert’ quoted. “Is David Clifford the best Gaelic player for his age in the country? Probably. But does the first pick in the AFL always turn out to be the best player? Not necessarily.
“There are Irish players who’ve been successful here who weren’t the best player in Ireland.
“So right now, he stacks up as a pretty enticing prospect, that’s for sure, but convincing him that (AFL) is the right thing to do for what arguably is going to be the best Gaelic footballer for a long time is the challenge.”
For Kilkenny, albeit looking on from afar, it’s pretty clear cut. He and his Dublin colleagues will be coming up against Clifford at some stage next year.
“We’ll see him in Kerry next year, definitely,” said Kilkenny.
- Ciaran Kilkenny is an ambassador for Sure, Official Statistics Partner of the GAA, and their ‘Never More Sure’ campaign.