There is class – and then there is David Clifford. Having spent the year redefining what the term means, he tore up the script yesterday in Fitzgerald Stadium producing arguably his best and certainly his most influential performance of the year.
he 23-year-old literally dragged his club Fossa across the line as they staged a dramatic comeback to deny a victory to their next-door neighbours Listry in the Kerry Premier Junior championship final.
Clifford scored 2-12, make up a 1-6 from play, a goal from a penalty and six pointed frees. He accounted for all of his side’s 2-3 in extra-time as Listry crumbled having been on the cusp of a victory when they led by four points with seven minutes of normal time left.
In Fossa’s five matches in the championship Clifford had averaged over ten points a game. But cometh the hour cometh the man.
When the need was greatest, he simply rewrote the maths with an 18 points haul to bring is tally to 4-55 in this competition. No wonder people drive to Kerry just to see him play.
This was his 30th game since he featured for Kerry in their McGrath Cup win over Limerick on January 5th. His personal scoring tally for the season is now 20-155. And the show keeps going.
Next weekend Fossa are due to play Dr Crokes in the East Kerry divisional championship and on the following weekend they begin their Munster campaign with a semi-final clash against Limerick champions Castlemahon.
Kerry boss Jack O’Connor may be having nightmares that David and his older brother Paudie may never get a break from the game in 2022.
But the pathway to a Croke Park appearance for the club situated on the bank of Lough Leane on the Killarney-Killorglin Road is now opening up.
“Every player deserves this one hundred percent because they put in unbelievable work all year and it would unbelievable to see some of them playing in Croke Park,” said team captain Paudie Clifford who together with his younger sibling have won McGrath Cup, National League, Munster championship, All-Ireland, All Stars, Kerry county championship and now Kerry Premier Junior.
“It was special to see the faces of the people who have put blood, sweat and tears into the club with without much success. We won the novice in 2016. We are six years trying to win this.”
Though he wasn’t quite as influential as David, Paudie was a pivotal figure as well yesterday scoring 1-2 and as well as providing the assists for two other goals. Only four Fossa players got on the scoreboard compared to nine for their opponents.
But Clifford found a way to steer his side home and secure Intermediate status next season.
“What was it Jimmy Magee said.. different class,” said a rueful Mark O’ Sé, the Listry manager. “It’s great that he is from our county. We can appreciate him but today we were on the other end.
“It is very disappointing as we were in control in normal time. We allowed them back in the game. Fossa were given a lifeline and when you are trying to curb the influence of one of the greatest players ever it is a very hard thing to do. They smelt it and they got oxygen from that, I think.”
Fossa bainisteoir Adrian Sheehan who together with ex-Kerry All-Ireland winning manager Eamon Fitzmaurice was in charge, thought the game was beyond redemption near the end of normal time.
He said: “The people of Kerry are very lucky to have him (David Clifford.) The people of Fossa are very lucky too.”
“I’ll tell you what it is like to manage David Clifford. He is the easiest man to deal with. You could ask him to do anything. He is a complete and utter gentleman,” added Sheehan.
Clifford himself declined to comment on his exploits but no words could capture just how majestic this was.
Forty-five minutes before throw-in crowds were already gathering including ex-Kerry boss Peter Keane – the trophy for the winners is named after his late father Tom.
It took Clifford just 38 seconds to register his first point from a free, but it was Listry who looked the better team.When they went four clear in the 53rd minute it looked good for them but a Paudie Clifford goal from a cross from his brother levelled the tie with less than three minutes left.
But it still took a magnificent score from the Player of the Year when he nonchalantly split the posts from near the touchline on the terrace side with the second last kick off the game to send it to extra time.
By then Listry’s two most influential players Ronan Buckley and Ruairi Murphy were struggling with injury.
But the game turned in Fossa favour in injury time at the end of the first period of normal time. Inevitably the Cliffords combined before David was hauled down in the square. He confidently dispatched the penalty but there was more drama in the second period.
Listry brought the margin down to two points but then Fossa’s Dan O’Connell won a crucial kick-out before linking up with Clifford. He just put his head down and breezed through the defence for a Roy of the Rovers style goal to seal the win. He is irrepressible.