David Clifford has been named Kerry senior football captain for 2020.
His status as East Kerry’s only guaranteed starter on the county panel meant it came as no surprise as the Fossa man was expected to get the job.
However, since the announcement on Monday questions have been raised about his age and whether or not he is ready to captain the Kingdom.
The fifth Beatle turns 21 today (Wednesday) and will begin his third season of senior inter-county action on Saturday when Kerry meet Dublin in the opening round of the Allianz Football League.
You might think he’s too young to captain a side looking to topple the game’s best-ever but plenty have taken on the mantle at a young age and achieved great success.
Brian O’Driscoll might just be Ireland’s greatest ever rugby player. The Leinster man made 133 appearances for the national side with 83 of them coming as captain.
He was given the honour of being a full-time captain following the retirement of Keith Woods. Just 23 at the time, O’Driscoll would prove to be an inspirational figure. Not just for Leinster and Ireland but the British and Irish Lions who he also led on many occasions.
Michael Murphy is probably the most similar case to Clifford.
A generational talent, in many people’s eyes, both he and Clifford would be considered among the best footballers in Ireland. Donegal’s talisman, like Clifford, was long talked about before making his senior debut at 17 while still a minor.
At 21, Murphy was handed the captaincy by Jim McGuinness and by 22 he was climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand as an All-Ireland winning captain.
Welsh Rugby legend Sam Warburton captained his national side at just 22 before going on to lead Wales into the 2011 Rugby World Cup where he would turn 23.
A proven winner and captain, Warburton would go on to captain the British and Irish Lions on two tours before retiring from the game at just 29.
Matthijs de Ligt became the youngest player ever to feature in a major European final when, at just 17, he played for Ajax in their Europa League final defeat to Manchester United.
Less than a year later and he was named captain of the club following an injury to Joel Veltmen. De Ligt, at 19, would go on to lead the Dutch club on a fairytale run to the Champions League semi-final where they defeated Real Madrid and current club Juventus en route.
Despite all of this, it really doesn’t matter what age Clifford is, or any of these accompanying stars for that matter.
What matters is whether he is right for the role.
Has he tasted success? He has. In two seasons with the Kerry senior squad, he’s picked up two All-Star awards as well as a Young Footballer of the Year award.
Does he lead by example? He does. As captain of the Kerry minor side, he scored 4-4 in the 2017 All-Ireland minor final.
Does he step up? He does and will continue to do so.
Best illustrated by his performance in last year’s drawn All-Ireland final. Clifford missed a couple of relatively easy chances (by his standards) early in the game. He didn’t let it affect him though as he took Jonny Cooper, one of the game’s most experienced defenders, to the cleaners resulting in the Dublin vice captain’s sending off.
Is he unselfish and utilises his teammates? Most definitely, Clifford may score heavy but he’s by no means selfish. His football IQ is extremely high and he is as good as anyone when it comes to unlocking a defence with a killer pass.
Finally, is he indispensable to the team? This is an issue that has plagued Kerry football in the past due to their insistence on the county champions selecting the team captain. Well, you have to say, he’s the first name on the teamsheet because, lest we forget, he’s a generational type of talent that doesn’t come around often.
The young maestro embodies all of the traits needed to become a successful captain. The question should not be of age but of want.
Does he want it?
At this stage, it’s impossible to tell but for some reason, I doubt that’ll be an issue.
If his on-field performances over the last four years are anything to go by, this prodigious talent wants it all.
All the best to him.
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