Sunday 18 February 2018

Orchard ace Clarke apple of Kerry star Clifford's eye

Minor star insists he's not distracted by all the hype around him

David Clifford is one of four survivors from last year’s victorious Kerry minors. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
David Clifford is one of four survivors from last year’s victorious Kerry minors. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Hailing from Kerry, minor star David Clifford didn't have to look too far for footballing heroes, but his eye was always taken by someone further afield.

Being from Fossa on the outskirts of Killarney, Colm 'Gooch' Cooper was an obvious choice though Clifford also took inspiration from someone beyond the confines of the Kingdom.

"Being from Kerry it's hard to look past Colm Cooper of course," Clifford replies when asked about his heroes.

"It's plain to see what he's done. But outside of Kerry I've always looked up to Jamie Clarke for some reason, I think something about his style of play caught my eye.

"I always followed him and tried to do a few things the same way as he did them. He's one of my main heroes growing up."

It's hard to remember a minor that has created as much buzz as Clifford, who leads Kerry into the All-Ireland minor final against Derry in tomorrow's curtain-raiser as they bid for an historic four-in-a-row.

Who will win the All Ireland football final?

A general view of the pre-match parade ahead of the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

He has already developed quite the reputation for himself, to the point where Jack O'Shea insisted he'd have thrown the youngster straight into Eamonn Fitzmaurice's team for the All-Ireland semi-final replay with Mayo had rule allowed.

Even in the Kingdom, where talented youngsters come along regularly, Clifford has been identified as something special. But he insists such high praise hasn't affected him. "There's enough fellas around who'll bring you back to earth," he says.

"I don't think about (the praise) too much in fairness. There's always another game and another game after that so there's no point really thinking about it. It's not going to help me, it's not going to improve me if I do keep thinking about those things."

Based on some of his displays, the talk seems well-founded. He scored a brilliant solo goal in last year's final to announce himself on the national stage.

And he hasn't missed a beat this summer, hitting 4-37 in the championship so far as Kerry swashbuckled their way back to the final.

"I don't tend to think about those kind of things personally myself too much. I think more about the team and if I don't perform somebody else will, another forward is going to get the scores or somebody out the field is going to perform, so I don't worry about it much.

"Obviously I do think about the game a lot and I do get nervous before games and all that, but I just go out and do what I can."

Clifford is one of four survivors from last year's side but he doesn't think there's any more pressure on them going into the game.

"I don't think there's more pressure, just to get behind fellas on the day of a big game, kind of give them a bit of a pat on the back, because you've been there before and put your arm around them and basically say, 'There's nothing to worry about'.

"I don't think there's added pressure, it's 15 men and 24 on match day and there's 30 fellas on the whole panel so it can't come down to just four.

"Last year's team there was a lot of fellas who had experience of the year before so personally I looked up to fellas like that. This year now it's more balanced and maybe it's a bit more of a hard-working kind of team.

"We'll say it was always hard for this year's team to repeat what last year's team did, but the fact we've gotten to this final is a good testament of this year's team as well."

But the Fossa youngster agrees the experience of having played on the big day before will help them tomorrow.

"I try to keep everything the same as every other year. I try not to change too much. The experiences from the other years is bound to help you some bit, because you're more settled going up there and it's not as much of a big deal and you can concentrate on the game and the game itself."

The Kingdom have beaten Derry at minor in the last two seasons but given their run to an Ulster title and their dismissal of Dublin last time out, Clifford insists they are aware of how good the Ulster side are.

"Just from listening to what the management have to say it's a massive, massive test and we know they've got good players all over the field and skilful, good forwards who have racked up good scores," reasons Clifford.

"They're very good too around the middle which is what we seem to know about them too. We're very wary of them."

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