David Clifford learning from All-Ireland regrets

It was David Clifford’s first public test as Kerry captain on Monday.

David Clifford learning from All-Ireland regrets

It was David Clifford’s first public test as Kerry captain on Monday.

Leaning back in his chair around the circular table, he wasn’t overstretched in batting away journalists’ questions on the sort of gentle topics that arise during a GAA pre-season: The winter set-pieces of fixtures and new rules, the battery-recharge of a team holiday, and that ever-looming shadow of the Dublin machine.

That he’s had the success of a Kerry senior title in the months since that All-Ireland final loss has somewhat taken the sting out of those latter enquiries, not that the blow would have landed quite as hard on a 20-year-old with the footballing world at his feet.

If anything, he’ll be forearmed with that September experience for 2020. They’re a young group across the board, too, aside from Clifford.

"That’s why the team holiday to Thailand was so important.

“It was a great trip. It was nice to get to know fellas on a different level other than just in a training sense. It was nice to switch off and recharge the batteries a bit.

“It probably put us on the back foot, training-wise, the sense that we probably have an awful lot less work done this year than last year, but it was very important for the group, especially a young group, and it merged us together a bit more.”

Maybe it helped to wash away that niggling feeling, too, the we-should-have-won-it thoughts that lingered after the draw with Dublin.

“There was, of course [those thoughts]. Any time you’re two or three minutes away from winning an All-Ireland, you’re going to have regrets.

“But it was great to have the county Championship to fall back on to take your focus away from the happenings of the previous few weeks.

There was great learnings to take from it, too, and we’ll hope to take them forward into this year.”

Kerry’s Head of Athletic Development Jason McGahan appeared on Radio Kerry’s Terrace Talk that same night, talking about the county’s efforts to narrow the gap to Dublin in strength and conditioning terms.

He spoke about how Bryan Cullen is entering his fifth year with Dublin in that role, how his predecessor Martin Kennedy, now with the IRFU, was building them up for the eight years before that. There are gains to be made.

“We have one year done and these boys won’t be too far away. They’ve definitely bought into it,” said McGahan.

“Where they were, even looking at their [fitness] scores from last November [2018] to this November, they’ve made serious strides in doing so. I’ve no doubt they’ll look back on last year and say we’re not too far away, and they will build on that, they’ll be pushing on hard.”

In line with that, Clifford doesn’t see a wide gap in physicality to Dublin from last summer and expects McGahan’s second year will lead to more improvements.

“Of course, they’re a very physical team and they’re in great physical condition but when it gets to that stage of the summer, nearly every team is in fairly similar condition.

“To have someone with the expertise of Jason in his second year is immense for us and it’s only going to lead to further development, especially with the work he’s doing with the development squads and the underage teams. It looks like a bright future for us.”

This year, there’s a novel factor in having his older brother, Paudie, alongside him for the journeys to training:

“It’d be great if he can shake off this injury now and hopefully make a bit of an impression later on in the league.”

On those set-piece questions, by the way, Clifford is glad to see attempts to change the fixtures calendar “in some way” and doesn’t think new rules like the advanced mark will lead to an overhaul for inside-men like himself.

“It’s going to be tough for referees more than anything to bring a bit of clarity to the rules. There’s probably still a bit of confusion around a few small little details.“

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