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David Clifford on dealing with expectation, life away from Kerry and missing soccer

The Kerry superstar is happy with the path he is on, taking it all in his stride.

Pictured is three-time Kerry All-Star, David Clifford, at the launch of SuperValu’s #CommunityIncludesEveryone campaign.
Pictured is three-time Kerry All-Star, David Clifford, at the launch of SuperValu’s #CommunityIncludesEveryone campaign.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Updated May 11th 2022, 5:04 PM

DAVID CLIFFORD IS a genuine superstar. A generational talent.

The Kerry sharpshooter has sparkled time and time again through the years, marking himself out as one of the best in the country from his debut season of 2018 to now.

He’s a special player; one that can almost make the ball talk and one worth the entrance fee alone. From very early days, Fossa and the Kingdom knew they had something special on their hands.

Expectation. Hype. Noise.

There’s no shortage of that in Kerry as is. Pressure from the public to win All-Irelands. 

Others, particularly those of his ilk who play such a central role in a team, may carry a burden, or feel that weight.

Not David Clifford.

“I don’t, to be honest,” the three-time All-Star says. “I try not to take too much notice of it.

“If you’re playing with an inter-county team, there is a lot of expectation. Especially in Kerry. People love their football. We don’t pay too much heed to the pressure. We just focus on working hard, and our next match.”

That’s something the 23-year-old revisits over and over, always staying firmly grounded.

Most notably when he’s asked straight out if Sam Maguire is the aim for 2022.

“Targets like that can be fairly lofty, so we’re trying to break it down to one game at a time. So it’s just the Munster final that’s our focus now, whether it’s against Limerick or Tipperary.”

He’ll never get too high or too low, happily taking everything in his stride.

Always about the team, never a one-man show.

Getting past Cork at the weekend was nice, but it’s all about the next one. Improvement is the constant goal, perhaps best seen when he looks at the extra attention he drew in Páirc Uí Rinn and double-marking and close confrontation he faces on a regular basis.

(Case in point Padraig O’Hora in the league final, though he insists there was no winding up: “In fairness, I haven’t had anything like that. Defenders are defenders. They are going to try and get an edge.”)

“Trying to find ways around the plus-one or plus-two is a good challenge, and it’s something I haven’t fully cracked yet, so it’s nice to keep working on that,” Clifford concedes.

“Trying to get that consistency of performance is something to strive for. But also it’s important that with Kerry, we have a massive spread of forwards. So if it’s not me that’s going to do the damage, there’s plenty of other people to do it.”

“I suppose I’ve missed a few goal chances against Cork the last few years,” he adds with a smile. “But sure look, that just comes with the territory. That’s football.”

david-clifford Clifford in action in the league final. Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO

That it is, the centre of Clifford’s universe.

It’s certainly a hectic schedule: from balancing inter-county and Sigerson football with University of Limerick, where he is undertaking a Masters in PE teaching, in the early part of the year, to the full focus being on Kerry and then club commitments thereafter.

“It does sound like a lot. It’s something that personally I enjoy. That’s what I’ve always done, I’ve always been involved with different teams.

“It’s probably your club that sees you when your body is at its most tired. It can be hard at times to keep yourself going.

“My father would always have been fond inter-county players who came back and played well for their club. I’d always try to do that. It’s tough, but it’s no tougher than any athlete in another sport. Maybe it’s tougher on your family, they don’t get to have you around as much. Maybe they’re delighted, I don’t know!”

Fatherhood is “a change of pace,” Clifford agrees, himself and his partner having welcomed their first child together last summer, Ógie. “He’s flying. It is a bit of a change, but it’s been hugely positive. There’s loads of fun attached to it too. That’s the thing I’ve found. It is very enjoyable. It’s hilarious at times. It’s class.”

A nice insight into David Clifford the person, rather than the player.

You get more when he’s talking about playing golf and watching snooker in his free time, or supporting his beloved Celtic.

Clifford was an excellent soccer player growing up, and there were surely opportunities there to pursue it further, along with the lure of AFL. Any regrets in that sense?

“In fairness, I do miss soccer, at times. It’s a great game. I would have been playing on a team with all my friends. I would miss that. I’m fairly happy with the path that I’ve chosen, though.”

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It’s one he’s hell-bent on mastering, too, having drawn inspiration from near and far along the way. “Gooch-type players” were always the role models, he reveals, adding:

“He was the best forward of all-time. It would be silly to not take stuff from him.”

david-clifford-celebrates-with-paudie-clifford-after-he-scored-a-point David and Paudie Clifford celebrate a score against Cork. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Now, Clifford shares a good connection with his brother, Paudie, on the pitch — “We probably know each other’s games fairly well. You see that with brothers who play together on other teams and in other sports” — the older of the siblings having focused on football recently after his own soccer exploits.

He also links up expertly with Sean O’Shea, the pair sharing de facto leadership roles with non-regular starter Joe O’Connor of Austin Stacks the captain for 2022.

Clifford held the job himself in 2020 and while it was something he enjoyed, he wasn’t too hung up on it.

Making his debut in Fitzgerald Stadium against Donegal in the 2018 league campaign was his favourite moment as a Kerry senior thus far, but the captaincy still ranks high.

“It was a massive honour,” he concludes. “We all know how 2020 shaped up with the Covid break and stuff like that. So it was a strange season. I enjoyed the role involved with it. Obviously there’s a bit of off-field stuff that you have to look after that I wasn’t maybe too fond of.

“But in the main, yeah, it’s a massive honour. Maybe not even for myself, but for my family and Fossa and stuff. You’re never going to pass on the opportunity to captain Kerry, but it’s not something I’m too worried about.”

Like so much else.

The genuine superstar and generational talent, taking it all in his stride.

David Clifford was speaking at the launch of SuperValu’s #CommunityIncludesEveryone campaign.

Now in their 13th year of supporting the GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, SuperValu is once again calling on each and every member of GAA communities across the country to do what they can to make their community more diverse and inclusive.

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Emma Duffy

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