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David Clifford celebrates Sunday's win with his brother Paudie.
David Clifford celebrates Sunday's win with his brother Paudie.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Jack on Clifford: 'Like a race horse in a big race, he's primed for big occasions'

The Kerry manager hails his attacking star after Sunday’s win.
Jul 26th 2022, 6:00 AM 5,906 0

HOW DOES HE do it, coping with the potentially suffocating expectations of a football-mad county?

From the outside it may seem all that pressure is a burden for David Clifford in Kerry.

Yet he manages, rising through the underage ranks, moving seamlessly onto the senior stage and shining since his breakthrough in 2018.

Three All-Star awards are reflective of his sparkling showings so far, a fourth is surely on the way this winter and he was crowned man-of-the-match for his efforts on Sunday in Croke Park.

To cap it all off, he is now an All-Ireland senior winner.

Blessed with ‘a remarkable temperament’ in the eyes of his manager that allows him to dazzle in such a fashion.

“Ah sure look we try not to make a big deal of it and try and get other players around him to take a bit of heat off him,” says Jack O’Connor.

“But more than anything else he’s just got a remarkable temperament himself. We’ve often spoke to him about this but he basically says that he doesn’t find it that hard to cope because he has a unique temperament. Like a race horse in a big race he’s primed for big occasions and he has always performed on the big day and it is remarkable that he keeps doing it.

“There has been huge expectation on him since he was 16 and winning Hogan Cups and winning minors so it is nothing new to him. Arthur Fitzgerald who would have coached him in St Brendan’s has a great phrase he says David has jumped every hurdle that was put in front of him at every age group. And it is no different now.”

Clifford helped himself to eight points on Sunday, including the conversion of two marks in the first half. It was a strategy O’Connor wanted to employ.

“Whatever about the rule it worked out alright for us that’s for sure. David won a couple of great marks and it was one of the things….when I spoke to him at the start of the year I said. ‘David you’re 6’ 3” 15 and half stone and it’s one of the weapons we’ll try and develop this year with you.’

“I’ve always liked that in an inside forward to be an aerial threat, going back to Johnny Crowley in ’04 and Donaghy in ’06 it is a great weapon to have because it gives great direction to your play. We had made a commitment to put in a bit of early ball and Paul Geaney is also particularly good over his head so it is a good weapon to have in the armoury.”

tadhg-morley-jack-oconnor-celebrate-with-the-sam-maguire-cup Jack O'Connor celebrates success with Tadhg Morley. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

O’Connor was a satisfied figure yesterday morning at the Kerry team base in the Gibson Hotel. It’s almost two decades since he first took the role of Kerry senior boss.

Over that time he has become well acquainted with the particular pressures and strains of a job that his mother Sheila had warned him against taking on, as O’Connor had referenced in his book ‘Keys to the Kingdom’.

“Johneen, a chroí, don’t take that job at all, they’ll be giving out to you.”

“Look I was very close to my mother, the youngest of nine children, and she’d have been very sensitive to any of us getting criticism,” outlined O’Connor yesterday morning.

“But me in particular I suppose because I was the baby. She knew I was in line for the job but she knew also what Kerry is like and what it is like when you don’t win so I think she maybe felt I’d have been better off if I didn’t take it. And it was amazing, the night that I was ratified for the job she was being taken to the funeral home so yeah…She got a good few calls yesterday when the heat was coming on, that’s for sure.”

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She would be delighted now that he took on the job?

“We hope so, we hope so, wherever the poor woman is.”

O’Connor spoke of the element of relief in getting over the line in an All-Ireland final for this group and also referenced the defensive improvements in their setup.

“Outside of the systematic improvement which is there for all to see, I think there has been really good individual improvement in players. I mean, a player like Graham O’Sullivan, who was a bit part player the last few years.

“This is his fourth year in the Kerry panel. He wasn’t a starter. He wasn’t getting much game time. He is a transformed man. He has been one of our stand out players all year. There’s great satisfaction in seeing individual players improve.

“Jason Foley has really come on as a full back this year. There were doubts about him, expressed by many people even within the county. But I had Jason Foley as a minor and I rated him really, really highly.

“He got a bit of protection this year, particularly from Tadhg. That helped him to express himself as the player we always thought he could be.”

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