It was a different Kerry dressing room that David Clifford stepped back into in March. Gone were Kieran Donaghy, Anthony Maher, Darran O’Sullivan, and Donnchadh Walsh. Thirteen All-Ireland senior medals departing, just 17 remaining, now down to 16 after Peter Crowley’s season-ending cruciate injury.
In the team that took to the field in Ennis on Saturday, there were only six: David Moran (two), Shane Enright, Stephen O’Brien, Paul Geaney and James O’Donoghue. Three more one-time medallists came on in the shape of Mark Griffin, Tommy Walsh, and Jonathan Lyne, but the numbers have dwindled.
Now one of just six All-Star recipients in the squad, Clifford’s seniority is rising rapidly, but the changing face of the group doesn’t bother him.
“It probably is a bit of a learning period for fellas. I suppose we’re going to have to learn fairly quickly and learn on our feet, because we have to be ready for Saturday in three weeks’ time (Munster final v Cork).
You could say there probably is a small bit of a younger age profile, but I think fellas are playing because they’re ready. That’s a good thing, it’s development, it’s fresh blood.
Clifford knows the second half of Saturday’s victory over Clare wasn’t up to scratch.
“We probably got a small bit sloppy, which you can’t do, because you need to push on and be ruthless. There’s plenty of room for improvement, which mightn’t be an overly bad thing.”
It was Clifford’s third game of the year, following shoulder surgery, which he hopes won’t trouble him as it has his team-mate James O’Donoghue.
“It’s hard to know, it’s an overhead sport, so shoulder injuries are very common, but hopefully it’ll be sorted now.”
He took an extended break from football to re-energise after a breakthrough year that finished late, due to East Kerry’s run to a county semi-final.
Derek McGrath and Ger Cunningham review the weekend's hurling with Anthony Daly
“I’d a prolonged pre-season I wouldn’t have had otherwise, which probably helped me more if anything. I got to do a bit of extra everything, really, extra thinking even, so it was great, really.”
If last year taught Clifford anything — apart from the need to be physical — it was how to treat every game as an entity. What Kerry did in Munster wasn’t related to their Super 8 performances.
“It just shows, you have to take every game in isolation, because you can’t really rest on your laurels. You can’t presume what happened is going to happen in the next [game] and, like a good performance, you can’t presume a bad performance is going to continue onto a bad performance. Every game has to be taken in isolation. Obviously, you need to learn from games and put them behind and prepare afresh.”
Having turned 20 in January, speculation about Clifford joining his former minor colleague Mark O’Connor in the AFL won’t go away. For “the near future”, at least, the prospect of him heading to Australia is slim to none. He admits he’s yet to speak to any clubs.
“I was very focused, once Éamonn [Fitzmaurice] gave me the call, to break into the team. Not that it was a distraction, because I didn’t even let it become that. I didn’t want it to get in the way.
“Very little [engagement with AFL clubs], to be honest, nothing at all. I’d say a lot of it was just talk, word just kind of got around then. I don’t know where from.
“Like, 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.”