DAVID MORAN WATCHED on with interest last summer when it appeared a number of AFL clubs were courting Kerry prodigy David Clifford.
Clifford is seen by many as the heir to Colm Cooper’s throne in the Kingdom, following two minor campaigns where he bagged 10-68 for Kerry, including a remarkable 4-4 in the 2017 final against Derry.
Ultimately, the young Fossa forward turned his back on a potential professional career, for the time being at least, and is training with Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s senior squad as they gear up for the start of the National League at the end of the month.
In 2009, a 21-year-old Moran and his club-mate Tommy Walsh were the Kerry hot shots on the radar of Aussie Rules clubs, with Walsh offered a deal after both players trialed at St Kilda.
Moran returned home and won another Celtic Cross in 2014, but admits he would have made the plunge had he been offered a contract by the Melbourne club.
“It was definitely a huge temptation for me,” he says. “I went to St. Kilda. I would have signed if I had got a contract but I didn’t. But the professional lifestyle, going to Australia, it’s way tougher than the glamorous side of it.
“I would have liked to have had a shot at it. If you had asked me in ’14, I would have said (it was a) blessing in disguise. But now that we’ve lost a few in-a-row, maybe I’d like to be over there!
“No, I have mixed emotions on it. I have no regrets, which is a big thing. I went over and gave it everything I had. I came up short. I came home. I got on with my career.
“I qualified professionally. I was lucky enough to win another All-Ireland when I came back. It hasn’t been too bad. But there are times when you think, ‘I’d love to have seen how I got on.’
“Would I have been able to play a game? Where would I have played? Different things, like. But I don’t wake up in the middle of the night wishing I did or didn’t go.”
Walsh carved out a five-year AFL career before a devastating hamstring injury brought it to a halt and he was never able to recapture his athletic brilliance. Moran understands there are two sides to the coin that is professional sport.
“Being a professional athlete – some of the John Egans of the world will tell you it’s not all rosy in the garden. I was speaking to Tommy about it.
“He was delighted that he got the opportunity to go, I think he had a great five years – probably didn’t play as many games as he might have liked, the injury obviously didn’t help things. I’m not sure exactly how he feels but I know that he thoroughly enjoyed the five years over there, he learned a lot.
“The injury is very serious. Look at Johnny Holland now, even Paul O’Connell had the same injury – it’s a very difficult one to come back from. The fact he’s back playing is huge credit to him.
“There’s injuries but it’s very hard to say it wouldn’t interest you. And there’s other factors as well. Do you want to live in Ireland? Do you want to play with Kerry? I think everyone wants to do their own thing differently.
“Tommy – and myself as well – the fact that you won an All-Ireland before you went was a massive factor. Because you weren’t longing in Australia to come back and win something.
“But sure it would have to be a temptation. I mean, if Munster rugby came calling, it’d be the exact same thing. People say (football) is getting so much more professional. But it’s actually getting so much more amateur because you’re training harder than ever and still working.”
Moran, who turns 30 this year, is hoping to return towards the end of the league as he works through various “niggles” in the gym.
Excitement in Kerry has been building around Clifford as he prepares for his debut senior campaign, but Moran has urged supporters to be patient as he adjusts to adult football.
“Some of it is over the top,” he says of the hype surrounding the youngster.
“Someone was saying to me if Paul Geaney or Kieran Donaghy were playing full-forward for the minors last year, how would they have got on? You know, at senior level, age doesn’t really matter.
“Tommy at 20 and 21 was phenomenal, but at 19 he didn’t get a game, Declan O’Sullivan didn’t make the panel in his first year, and after that he was phenomenal.
“I’m really looking forward to David Clifford but I think you have to have patience with him, for people thinking he’s going to come in and burn it up just a year out of minors is probably a bit unrealistic. If you look at the last 20, 30 years of Gooch, perhaps, maybe Ronan Clarke, but it’s very, very (rare).
“And the other thing is that the full-forward line for Kerry last year was the one line that could put their hand up and say, ‘We did okay.’ It wasn’t as if we have to have someone in the full-forward line now.
“Paul obviously had a very good year, Kieran in the first Mayo game kept us in it nearly on his own, he was very good against Galway, Barry John Keane, Jack Savage, James (O’Donoghue) got Munster Player of the Year, so it wasn’t as if, you know, ‘We need a full-forward or corner-forward badly.’”
Clifford’s 6’2″ frame that saw him dominate minor ranks, but Moran reckons it won’t be as big an advantage for him in the coming season.
“I suppose the thing about him last year was that he was very big for his age, he was a very big minor. He was so much bigger than all the other fellas as well as having all the attributes, this year he won’t have that advantage. Look, it’s very exciting, I’m delighted he’s from Kerry but there has to be a small bit of patience with him.
“The way the game has gone, when I first came into the set-up in 07/08, there was the Aidan O’Mahonys and Paul Galvins who were going to the gym, but as a general rule, it was more about getting your football right. Now, every fella that comes in is very strong, physically.
“So, it might be a bit harder now to compete at 18 now than when we came in. Some of us were naturally big but we would have been blown away in terms of man-strength.
“Your 25 or 26-year-old now in the Kerry set-up is much stronger than when they were in the mid-noughties when the conditioning and the weights really came to a new level, maybe that is a factor.
“And sometimes, minor and senior is a different sport. There is stuff you can do at minor level that you can’t do at senior level. And we do have a very good crop of senior players, it is not as easy as to just push fellas out of the way as might be expected.”
David Moran was speaking ahead of the Lidl Comórtas Peile Páidí Ó Sé 2018 Gaelic Football club tournament, which takes place between February 16-18 on the Dingle Peninsula. Details on www.paidiose.com
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