Kerry Gaelic footballer David Clifford is a sporting genius. The 22-year-old has looked destined for stardom since his teenage years.
We have put together an extensive profile on the Kingdom ace, talking to those who know him best to get an insight into how Clifford became the best Gaelic footballer in Ireland.
David Clifford won All-Ireland Minor titles with Kerry in 2016 and 2017.
Liam Brosnan worked with Clifford for six years. Brosnan managed his Sigerson Cup side IT Tralee for three seasons, while he also coached him in Kerry underage development squads.
Brosnan could see Clifford’s special ability from a very young age and stated his belief that he could be Kerry’s best ever Gaelic footballer.
“At 14 years of age we were looking at him and we were in awe. You could see at that age that he was going to be developing into something special,” Brosnan said.
“We were playing the Limerick’s and the Cork’s down here in the Munster campaign for development squads and he was just running riot.
“In the space of two or three minutes he might have two or three goals scored. Players just couldn’t stop him.
“It wasn’t at that stage that he was overly stronger than any player but it was just his ability. As you see in the last few years, he has a man’s body for a young guy.
“He’s 6ft 2 and he’s well built and he’s well able to mind himself. I think he’s going to be one of the greatest we’ve ever seen down here. He is something special.”
David Clifford plays club football with Fossa and East Kerry.
John Evans managed Clifford is his first year as an adult footballer with his club Fossa. Evans has also managed Tipperary, Roscommon and Wicklow at inter-county level.
He noted how Clifford was too young to play with the senior team in his first year in charge, though he was willing to do any job asked of him to improve the set-up.
“I asked him to do the stats for games. I asked him to do umpire. I asked him to do so many different functions as you would have in a small club,” Evans said.
“He was just part of the lads even though he wasn’t able to play senior football. He was part of it.
“He was learning and listening the whole time and he constantly made himself available to do any job whatsoever just to be part of the team.”
The Kerry star studied Health and Leisure in college.
Mark Quigley is a lifelong friend of Clifford. Both lads studied Health and Leisure in IT Tralee.
The Kerry star has now graduated from IT Tralee and is now studying a Masters in P.E. teaching.
Quigley remarked how Clifford had almost perfect attendance in university and how he was very dedicated to his course, despite the obvious sporting distractions.
“David was always very engaging with lectures. I’d say he had near 100% attendance. There might have been a couple of games there in the league where they might have had to have gone up north to play a crowd,” his former classmate said.
“It might have been a late night for him and he might have taken an hour off on Monday morning. To be fair to him I know he has near 100% attendance in everything in college.
“He’s done very well. He got very good results as well so fair play to him.
“There were study weeks and everything there now – I’m very good friends with him. We kind of had a group of four there in our class.
“We kind of had our Snapchat group and our WhatsApp groups. We’d always be motivating each other for college and if someone didn’t have notes for a main part of the exam another fella would – you’d be always kind of motivating each other.
“He motivates us on the field so we try our best to motivate him with college but he doesn’t need motivating for college work. He takes it as seriously as his football and he’s going well in UL.”
David Clifford is very accurate with his left and right foot.
Quigley is a nephew of the Kerry legend Jack O’Shea and the St. Mary’s Caherciveen footballer spoke of how Clifford would practice kicking from both feet for half an hour after every practice session.
The 23-year-old has now perfected the art of kicking with both feet, which makes him almost impossible to mark.
“We could be down for half an hour after training – kicking at the posts was the main thing for him. He’d be practicing his frees, both left, and right leg,” Quigley said.
“His right leg is as good as his left leg so that’s a massive thing that I took from him.
“He’d stay about half an hour after every training session kicking at the post, kicking off both feet, practicing the hand passing, practicing the kick-passing, making sure that he was always on the top of his game.”
Kevin Walsh and Galway found very few weaknesses in Clifford’s game.
Clifford began playing for the Kerry senior footballers in 2018 under Eamonn Fitzmaurice. Kevin Walsh was managing Galway at the time. Galway defeated Kerry in that year’s championship.
Walsh has recently launched his own coaching company GrowCoach and published his autobiography The Invisible Game, with Daragh Ó Conchuir.
The former Galway boss remarked how he could find very few weaknesses when preparing to face Clifford, in contrast to a lot of other big-name forwards in the country.
“He was a special talent coming through. We focus on everybody but you’d have to be looking at it that there’s a major threat here,” Walsh said.
“We’d have focused big time on him and when you do focus you look at the strengths and weaknesses.
“His strengths far outweigh his weaknesses whereas a lot of good forwards with good names at the minute – if you really go deep into them, some of them might have more weaknesses than strengths even though they might be getting fierce plaudits, but David Clifford is different.
“He is what he says on the tin. There are far more strengths than weaknesses.”
David Clifford made his Kerry debut in 2018.
Galway had defeated Kerry in the 2018 Super Eights and Kerry needed to salvage something from their next championship clash with Monaghan to avoid being eliminated from the championship.
The Kingdom were trailing by three points deep into stoppage time when their youngest player popped up with a goal to save the season.
Evans felt that the hallmark of Clifford’s game is stepping up when the need is greatest, as he had done in the 2016 All-Ireland minor final against Galway.
“Really when David Clifford started was the year they played Galway and he was a minor. It was the All-Ireland final and the game wasn’t exactly flying for him,” he said.
“On the same day he had caught a wonderful ball and laid it off to David Shaw and he got a great goal and showed great vision. He fielded a wonderful ball. He’d taken a few shots and they hadn’t gone right for him.”
Kerry beat Galway in the 2016 All-Ireland minor final.
“As Galway came close to within two points, the one thing that sticks out with me is that David Clifford decided to do something himself.
“Galway were getting a foothold of the game and David came out about 60 or 70 yards from goals and won a ball and he really took it on and he got a great, great goal.
“It was a wonder goal really, but it showed that he wasn’t happy with his game and he wanted to do something and the game was getting a bit closer and he’s a guy that kicks into action when the need arises and that’s the hall-mark.
“Against Monaghan in the championship in 2018 – a game where Kerry really, really needed it, he turned up with a fantastic goal. I think that’s where David Clifford sticks out to me – when you really need him he’s able to answer the call.”
Liam Brosnan feels Clifford has an exceptional ability to read the game.
Brosnan suggested that reading the game is one of Clifford’s main strengths, as was illustrated by his goal against Galway in this year’s league campaign.
“You’d always be trying to teach fellas maybe instead of going from A to B to C – the good footballer will skip B and go to C. He’s one of those fellas. He automatically will go to C. He’s one step ahead the whole time,” the former IT Tralee manager said.
“His reading of the game is far superior than a lot of players out there. He’s not going from A to B to C.
“He’s skipping B and he’s gone before other players can get there. You see some of the goals that he has scored. Even the soccer goal that he got against Galway – the quick thinking that he does.
“He has the ability to do so much but he’s just ahead of everyone. Go back to that goal against Galway – he was able to dummy it and bring it back onto the other leg and side-kick into the net.
“There aren’t many players out there who can have quick thinking like that.”
— The GAA (@officialgaa) May 15, 2021
David Clifford went to school in St. Brendan’s College, Killarney.
Hugh Rudden is vice-principal in St. Brendan’s College, Killarney. He was Clifford’s year head from 2011-2016 and was a selector on his team that won the 2016 Hogan Cup.
Rudden stated that Clifford was an excellent soccer player in school. He won All-Ireland school titles in both Gaelic football and soccer.
“David was a very pleasant young fella, he was very normal in school. Got along well with his friends. Played his Gaelic football and his soccer at lunchtime,” Rudden said.
“He’s a very accomplished soccer player as well. He has an All-Ireland soccer medal. His photograph is actually in my office now.
“He involved himself in everything in school and the full life of the school. Got along well with the teachers. He was just a normal, average, everyday student.”
The Kerry ace is doing a Master’s in P.E. teaching in UL.
Clifford did his teaching placement in his former school from 2011-2016 and Rudden was very happy with his engagement in his work.
“He was fantastic. He was an excellent role model for the boys here. He was there, he was available,” the St. Brendan’s vice-principal said.
“He worked well with his colleagues as a PE teacher and taught PE. He taught it online during the lockdown.
“He was also here when the school reopened and he helped form soccer leagues at lunchtime as well for our fifth-year students. He involved himself very much in the life of the school.”
David Clifford is very loyal to those close to him.
Evans is of the opinion that Clifford’s loyalty and respect to his family and those close to him are his key traits.
“The thing that stuck out to me was that he was such a loyal family man,” Clifford’s former manager said.
“He was loyal to his mam and dad, he was loyal to his club, he was loyal to his brother, he was loyal to the manager that trained him.
“He has lovely loyalty to whoever is in charge and he fitted in amongst his friends because there were a lot of guys who were much older than him.
“The likes of Fintan Coffey and Lorcan Daly and these guys – they would have been around a long time and he respected those. He’s a very respectable type of player.”
David Clifford should help Kerry end their seven-year All-Ireland drought.
Clifford has everything going for him and few would begrudge his success. The Fossa sharpshooter may go on to be the best player ever to play the sport.
However, he is incredibly humble, hard-working, and down to earth, as is clearly portrayed by those closest to him.