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Roy Curtis: 'Kerry have thrown down a bold challenge to Dublin - and it's not just the Kingdom armed with hope'

Roy Curtis


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David Clifford will captain Kerry this year

David Clifford will captain Kerry this year

SPORTSFILE

David Clifford will captain Kerry this year

DAVID Clifford confronts each examination of his potential with the natural born poise of an athlete ordained to answer the call of destiny.

Still a day shy of his 21st birthday, Clifford's legend already towers like Carrauntoohil.

Preposterously gifted, he brings a joyous swagger, cloudless clarity, uncontainable sorcery and boundary-shifting, preternatural craft to a rectangle of grass.

Already, some ordinarily sober judges are giddily forecasting that Clifford will leave behind him a body of work unmatched by even the most celebrated of the boys of summer.

So, when Peter Keane confirmed Fossa's boy prince as Kerry captain on Monday, it seemed less an audacious gamble as the handing down of a birthright.

And it felt a little like the Kingdom daubing on the green and gold war paint and submitting a bold challenge to Dessie Farrell and Dublin.

Football's twin bluebloods launch the 2020 season under Croke Park's January lights on Saturday in a contest that has the substantial weight of something more than mere winter shadow-boxing.

It is true that the All Ireland champions still have Bali sand in their shoes and might not be at their optimum fighting weight for a few months yet.

That Stephen Cluxton and Con O'Callaghan head the A-list absentees may mean a Dublin Lite line-up awaits Kerry.

Still, this tingles like a collision that could light the touchpaper so brilliantly that it might flame all the way to August's last dance.

Farrell's understanding of the urgent imperative to generate some early post-Jim Gavin era momentum is matched by Kerry's yearning to land a psychological haymaker on the jaw of their September conquerors.

That the odds-makers offer only 8/11 on Dublin extending their ownership of summer to a sixth year hardly supports the thesis that football is entering a new age of democracy.

Yet there are evident traces of hope for those arming their slingshots for a pop at the Sky Blue goliath.

Padraig Joyce's invitation to Shane Walsh to unfurl the best of his luminous football personality has fuelled hopes that Galway might again approach summer with the same traditional absence of fear that has been so empowering for the history-makers of Corofin.

If it is more than a little dreamy to imagine Cork marking the tenth anniversary of their last All-Ireland with a dramatic encore, clearly there are green shoots in Rebel country.

An injury-free, Michael Murphy-led Donegal, one touching the heights of last year's thrilling Super 8 draw with Kerry, should believe they can intrude upon the 2020 narrative.

Mickey Harte and James Horan will rail against any consensus that Tyrone and Mayo's best days are a receding memory.

But it is Clifford and Kerry who bring the most electrifying charge of anticipation.

An entirely different level of excitement, something close to hysteria, comes with the prize of a ringside seat to watch a generational talent unveil his latest masterwork.

Clifford has that aura, a Messi-like capacity to send shrieks of wonder around a coliseum, to weave miracles on the enchanted loom of his genius.

In tandem with Seanie O'Shea he took Dublin to the brink four months ago, the very best of the latter's champion resolve required to avert calamity.

A year on, with that experience banked, the conviction is that Kerry will be better again. As they say in horse racing, they will come on for the run.

Dublin remain sovereign, a team accumulating imperishable achievements. For all their battle ribbons, Fenton, Kilkenny, McCaffrey, Mannion, Small and O'Callagan have an age profile that insists they are only now advancing beyond the foothills of their potential.

It will require something authentically seismic to shift football's tectonic plates.

But, then, Clifford's calling card is the kind of convulsive and unanswerable earthquake that transforms the landscape, that can reduce the strongest foundations to rubble.

Here is a man who scored 4-4 In an All-Ireland final, seizing the biggest day on the calendar and making it his personal plaything.

At 20, he has already accumulated as many Allstars as Diarmuid Connolly.

Jim Gavin drained hope from summer after summer, feeding a conveyor belt of shattered ambition to those who would rise up and take down his platoon.

But Jim has departed the stage and it is impossible for such a towering figure to fly off into the night without leaving some vapour trails of apprehension in his wake.

Dublin remain the seat of empire, yet there is a sense, at last, that rebellion might not prove entirely futile, that a well-timed uprising might even have the potential to trigger regime-change.

And, so, Kerry and their boy prince come to Croke Park on Saturday armed with growing conviction, unafraid to believe that before summer is out a new world order might yet be shaded in green and gold.

Online Editors