Former Chelsea wonder-kid Clifford in talks with Dundalk
League of Ireland champions Dundalk are in talks with former Chelsea FA Youth Cup winning captain Conor Clifford about a move to relaunch his career at Oriel Park.
The 25-year-old was tipped for stardom as a teenager when he selected Chelsea over a host of suitors, and he starred at underage level for the Premier League giants.
Clifford skippered the side that won the FA Youth Cup in 2010 but he was unable to break through into the first team and embarked on a series of loan spells before his release in 2013.
He then had a brief spell at Leicester and two years with Southend before dropping out of league football to spend the last 18 months with National League side Boreham Wood, who play in what was once known as the Vauxhall Conference.
Clifford is understood to have opportunities in the UK with one of his old loan clubs Crawley Town keen to bring him on board - their head coach Dermot Drummy used to work for Chelsea's academy and was in charge for the 2010 success. But the player is open to the idea of moving home for a fresh start and Dundalk initially spoke to him before Christmas. They held further talks yesterday with a view to agreeing a deal
As a schoolboy with Crumlin United, Clifford was team-mates with Richie Towell and Andy Boyle, who have both used Dundalk as a stepping stone to bigger things.
Clifford was a star member of that group and was capped all the way up to U-21 level with Ireland. He was also twice called into the senior squad by Giovanni Trapattoni but he did not get on the pitch.
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny has returned from a holiday in the United States to accelerate the process of strengthening his dressing-room and the Louth club are expected to announce a number of additions to their squad this week.
Danish defender Niclas Vemmelund is very close to a switch after spending last term with Derry City, while Jamie McGrath will join from St Patrick's Athletic once a compensation figure is agreed.
Strengthening wide areas was a priority and a loan move for Celtic's ex-Derry City winger Michael Duffy is another option, while Kenny has scouted options in the Irish League.
Everton winger Steven Kinsella, who had a spell on loan with St Pat's last season, is also in the equation.
Last term's top scorer David McMillan is expected to sign a new deal and right winger John Mountney is likely to extend his stay after considering his options.
Elsewhere, St Pat's have announced a treble capture, with striker Kurtis Byrne joining from Bohs, goalkeeper Barry Murphy coming back for a second stint after parting company with Shamrock Rovers and Alex O'Hanlon an interesting addition after five years in England with Liverpool. The left winger had spent time on trial with Huddersfield in recent months.
"Alex has an excellent left foot and will be a signing that our supporters can look forward to seeing in the colours of St Pat's," said manager Liam Buckley. "He has experience from being involved in the Liverpool set-up for five years and has played at underage level for Ireland so we're looking forward to see him feature throughout the 2017 season.
"Kurtis Byrne is technically one of the best players in the league so to add him to our squad is a huge plus. He is another player our supporters will know well as he has a reputation of scoring some superb goals over the past few seasons and we hope that he can continue that trend with us."
But experienced midfielder Killian Brennan will not be returning to Inchicore: he has instead opted to join his hometown club Drogheda United, where he will line out alongside his brothers Sean and Gavin.
Three members of Galway United's 2016 squad have found new clubs for the year ahead, with Longford snapping up Enda Curran and Stephen Walsh and Finn Harps agreeing terms with Killian Cantwell.