KERRY WERE UNDOUBTEDLY the biggest winners from the opening weekend of the Super 8s.
The Kingdom impressively tore Mayo apart in Killarney, enjoying a 10-point victory that catapulted them up the list of challengers to Dublin’s crown.
It was a game that highlighted just how costly Mayo’s Connacht semi-final exit to Roscommon was. James Horan’s team looked fatigued by their run through the backdoor, which has seen them in action for the last four weekends on the bounce.
As it stands, Kerry and Donegal look most likely to progress from Group 1 and both promise to give Dublin a stern examination in the knock-out stages of the All-Ireland series.
The single biggest reason for Kerry to believe they can be the team that stops the Dublin juggernaut is the form of the young prince in their attack.
And it was the performance of David Clifford that left the home fans purring as they poured out of Fitzgerald Stadium yesterday.
Still only 20 and in his second season out of minor, Clifford rubber-stamped his status as the elite forward in the Kerry attack and, arguably, in the country. He has already been anointed as the heir to Colm Cooper’s throne, at an age when most youngsters are still getting to grips with inter-county football at this level.
Just 18 months into his senior career, Kerry’s charm offensive to convince the Fossa star to turn down overtures from the AFL proved to be a wise one. That’s not to say that Aussie Rules scouts won’t come calling over the next few years, but for the moment Clifford seems content with lighting up the All-Ireland SFC for the green and gold.
Brendan Harrison tackles David Clifford.
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
Clifford has already usurped Paul Geaney as the primary score-getter in the Kerry attack.
The Dingle forward plus former Footballer of the Year James O’Donoghue were more than happy to drop deep and get themselves involved in Kerry’s build-up play while Clifford held his position as their most advanced attacker.
Kerry wisely looked to isolate Clifford in one-on-one situations with Brendan Harrison.
Five minutes into the game, the number 13 had two points to his name already. The first arrived from a Geaney kick-pass that bounced into his chest, the second from a strong Stephen O’Brien run down the left where Clifford came around on the loop.
The hosts had 0-7 on the board after 10 minutes, their attack clicking nicely through the gears.
Kerry’s aggressive press on David Clarke’s kick-outs, allied to David Moran ruling of the airwaves, gave Peter Keane’s team a solid platform to attack. After 21 minutes, flying wing-back Gavin White burst down the flank and again Clifford glided into a pocket of space behind him, received the hand-pass and guided the ball between the posts.
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That was his third point from four shots, but the best was yet to come. The comparison with Maurice Fitzgerald is natural considering Clifford’s languid style. The 26th minute free he stroked stroke over from near the sideline bore more than a passing resemblance to Fitzgerald.
David Clifford delights the home fans with this brilliant strike from the sideline. Kerry lead by eight and it's not half-time.
Watch highlights on #sundaygame 9:30pm pic.twitter.com/AAZ5THdtF4
— The Sunday Game (@TheSundayGame) July 14, 2019
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If that score reminded Kerry supporters of Fitzgerald’s sideline point in Thurles, then his through ball to Geaney that almost produced a goal earlier in the half smacked of Gooch against the Dubs in 2013.
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Clifford had 16 possessions in total, finishing with 0-7 from 10 attempts at the posts. He assisted a further two scores and was fouled for another converted free, meaning he was directly responsible for 0-10 of Kerry’s 1-22 tally.
By the 56th minute, the Kingdom were 1-18 to 0-10 and in cruise control. They let their foot off the gas in the final quarter, understandable given they’ve got a quick turnaround before they face Donegal at Croke Park next weekend.
The prospect of unleashing Clifford on a Dublin defence that shipped 1-17 to Cork no doubt gives Keane hope they can end a five-year wait without the Sam Maguire next month.
Defensive issues still need to be sorted and Kerry have a few fish to fry before they can even countenance taking down the Dubs, but it’s nice to know they’ve got a genuine shot with a forward of Clifford’s class in their ranks.
Kerry failed to progress from the Super 8s in 2018, yet Clifford did enough over the three games to deliver the Young Footballer of the Year gong and his maiden All-Star. He scored 4-14, including a dramatic last gasp equalising goal against Monaghan in Clones.
And he has started this year’s All-Ireland quarter-final phase in a similar vein of scoring form.
He’s less than two years into his senior career, but already this is Clifford’s team. It’s up to the rest to find a way of stopping him.
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