Sunday 25 August 2019

'I try not to take too much notice of it' - Kerry star Clifford on ignoring the hype and his side's prospects

 

Kerry’s David Clifford, at yesterday’s Avonmore launch, feels he’s reaping the benefits of a prolonged pre-season. Photo: ©INPHO/James Crombie
Kerry’s David Clifford, at yesterday’s Avonmore launch, feels he’s reaping the benefits of a prolonged pre-season. Photo: ©INPHO/James Crombie
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

At various points in David Clifford's career, there were chances to perhaps take another path.

At underage level, he was a keen soccer player with Killarney Celtic. And just as he was coming to national prominence with a string of brilliant performances for underage Kerry and school teams, he was persistently linked with a move Down Under to the AFL, like many of Kerry's best and brightest have been over the past few years.

Talent like his is always going to open doors and bring big opportunities. But in Clifford's mind, at least, Kerry, Killarney and Croke Park were always his preferred destinations.

"I played a lot of soccer yeah, with Killarney Celtic, we'd a few great years, played a load of soccer. To be honest, it was great," he says.

"(Kerry) would have been (the big aim) I suppose. I played some Kennedy Cup as well, and everybody in the Kennedy Cup thought they were going to be signed (professionally).

"Actually there was a player with us, Rian O'Sullivan (who) went to Brighton, and he was unbelievable. But after that settled down, we saw the reality, and Kerry was the focus."

He insists, too, that the links to Australia were baseless, describing the near constant speculation as "just talk", despite an official AFL Twitter account championing his talents.

"I'd say a lot of it was just talk, word just kind of got around then, I don't know where from. But there was nothing at all to be honest.

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"I was very focused, once Éamonn (Ftizmaurice) gave me the call, to break into the (Kerry) team. I didn't want to be... 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."

Kerry came knocking as soon as he was available. It's hard to remember a minor footballer carrying greater expectation ahead of a senior championship campaign than Clifford did going into 2018. The previous year, as captain of the Kerry minors, he hit 8-41 in the championship, including 4-4 in the final against Derry.

Along with Seán O'Shea, he was fast tracked past the Kerry U-20s and straight into the senior team.

Somehow, he managed to live up to the promise, hitting 4-14 from 23 shots on goal across three games in the 'Super 8s' alone, which helped him earn an All-Star in his first season with Kerry.

A shoulder injury saw him make a delayed start to this campaign, but there has been no sign of second-season syndrome so far this year.

However, that's not to say he doesn't feel pressure before big games.

"You would a small bit, I suppose it's only natural to be nervous. It's just trying to keep a lid on the nerves.

"As people say, if you have no nerves, it's probably a bad sign. But when the first ball is thrown in, you kind of settle. When you get on that first ball, it's kind of all good from there."

And he insists that he tries not to pay attention to the expectations that have been placed on him.

"I just tried not to take too much notice of it, what talk was going on, just keep the head down, get a place on the team, that was my focus. I don't think anything else that was going on outside was important to me.

"I suppose last year was a great experience," reflects Clifford at the launch of Avonmore's blueberry flavour protein milk.

"Just the grounding is kind of over, I know what to expect. It's about trying to perform consistently now."

The winter brought its challenges and a shoulder injury required intervention that saw him miss the early part of the season. But as one door closed, a window opened and Clifford used the down-time to add some bulk to an already considerable frame.

"The big thing was the physicality of it and needing to be nice and strong and compact to be able to take the hits, that was the main thing. The physicality and still trying to bring your own attributes to the game, while taking hits, but keep your same traits that have got you this far in football, not going away from that too far.

"I had a bit of a prolonged preseason that I wouldn't have had otherwise so it probably helped me if anything, I got to do a bit of extra everything really, extra thinking even."

Kerry got off to a winning start in the championship and head to Páirc Uí Chaoimh for a Munster final clash with fierce rivals Cork. However, he insists they have plenty to work on despite a fairly comfortable win over Clare last Saturday night.

"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."

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