‘It’s tough to take the losses each year but it makes this so much sweeter’ 23-year-old Fossa forward says after winning his first All-Ireland senior medal
Before ‘lots’ or ‘many’ there has to be ‘one’. Most of the 23-year-olds playing senior inter-county don’t have an All-Ireland medal, and when they reach 33 they still won’t. But David Clifford isn’t your average bear, and so at just 23 years of age it felt like there was a giant Celtic cross shaped hole in the Fossa man’s life. Not any more.
With three All Stars to his name already – and just about every other accolade and honour in the game achieved – it seemed just a matter of time before that senior All-Ireland medal would come his way. Now it has, and with it the RTE Man of the Match award. Expect a fourth All Star to follow, and in all likelihood the Footballer of the Year gong too.
Much wants more, as the saying goes, so don’t expect Clifford – or his team mates or manager – to be sated with just the one. He said as much himself minutes after kicking eight points in Kerry’s 0-20 to 0-16 win over Galway in a final fittingly dominated by two of the game's more gifted players, Clifford and Shane Walsh.
“There definitely a realisation that this isn’t the end of us by any means. It’s really time to go now. We are just getting started,” the Fossa forward said, in an ominous warning to every other county out there that will see Kerry with a ‘x’ on their backs next year.
“You see so many sportspeople who have never won whatever, Premier Leagues, All-Irelands, whatever. There’s absolutely nothing inevitable about it.
It’s tough to take the losses each year but it makes this so much sweeter,” he said.
“In January and February every year we felt like we were going to go and win the All-Ireland. I’d say this year was probably the first year we didn’t mention winning the All-Ireland, until today, really. I think that was important for us. Maybe we were building it up too much in other years, I don’t know. It’s easy to say you’re going to win it in January and February. Then you actually have to go and do it. It’s class.”
Clifford scored three points from play, converted two marks, and was accurate with three frees, the last of which was from such a tight angle it prompted Jack O’Connor to walk over to the spot after the game to fully appreciate difficulty of the kick and the perfect execution of it by the boy wonder.
“I missed a few frees at the start in the Cork game in 2020,” Clifford recalls, reflecting on this 67th minute free that edged Kerry back into a 0-17 to 0-16 lead. “And I did a lot of work with Maurice Fitz last year on it, trying to get into the right head space and not be too causal standing over it. So I was quite confident and went back to my routine and thankfully it went over.
“It felt like (Galway) had really analysed us very well individually. In the game, a few things happened that you were going, ‘Jesus, that usually works for me’. So no, fair play to them, they had massive analysis done and they delivered on their game plan. But I suppose we had an idea that if we could just enjoy the battle for 55 minutes, things would open up and we’d kick on from there. Thankfully that’s how it went.
“It was general disappointment at half-time. Not about anything we brought — we just weren’t ourselves. We didn’t nail our shots. We didn’t bring any sense of want or need out there. There was no intensity from us. So I think it was disappointment really because we knew there was so much more in us. You have those days some times but thankfully it came right for us."
Prior to Sunday Clifford already had his place among the pantheon of Kerry greats – Mikey Sheehy, Pat Spillane, Maurice Fitzgerald, Colm Cooper – and he didn’t necessarily need the All-Ireland medal to be talked about in that company. But it helps. He walks among us now, still a generational talent in the sport, but an All-Ireland winner as well. How many more medals will follow no one knows, but David Clifford has opened his account. As his manager is fond of saying ‘that’s money in the bank’.
"Look, I suppose it is difficult at times to shut it out but I've always said it, whether it's being from Kerry or being from Killarney, people are really good at keeping you grounded,” the 23-year-old All-Ireland winner said.
"There's footballers everywhere down through the generations and there's always someone who has done more than you, and obviously a lot more than me."
Perhaps, but he has the time and the talent to catch up with most of them.