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McBurney/Declan Bogue

Pictured Declan Bogue

Date: Thursday 12th April 2012

Location: BT Offices

Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Copyright: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Liam McBurney - RAZORPIX


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Kerry's David Clifford can inspire a whole generation

Declan Bogue


Next level: Kerry’s new captain David Clifford

Next level: Kerry’s new captain David Clifford

Next level: Kerry’s new captain David Clifford

As it happens, we have all the neighbours twitching the lace curtains and standing in the Post Office queue exchanging snippets of gossip about the fancy Dans who have bought the Eir Sports subscription to follow the hurling and football leagues.

One by-product of strapping yet another financial yoke to your back is that said channel tends to fill its scheduling with low-budget, mass-appeal stuff.

There is nothing wrong with this. It is commonplace even on Sky Sports, where the early years of Premiership soccer has been soaked in the warm bath of nostalgia.

Eir have adopted a similar formula and last week they screened the full 1983 All-Ireland football final between Dublin and Galway.

And you know something? It was a terrible, aimless, wild affair. The living riposte to a blinkered delusion of a 'golden age' of Gaelic football.

Critics of the modern game will talk in generalisations about standards of skills dropping. If you should find yourself in one of these conversations, avoid it like the coronavirus.

Despite this, Gaelic football remains a game played with a ferocious intent.

While it no longer lapses into out and out primitiveness, the artists are easily identifiable.

That's why, after a decent crowd of 5,860 came through the Healy Park gates to see Tyrone beat Meath in the first round of the League, there should be far more this Sunday when Kerry - with their newly-minted captain David Clifford - roll into town.

Clifford belongs to a regal lineage of Kerry forwards. It is an under-appreciated element of their rich history, how they have been blessed with a run of Mikey Sheehy, Maurice Fitzgerald, Colm Cooper and now Clifford adorning the special No.13 jersey.

Special, and cursed. No captain has lifted an All-Ireland for Kerry wearing that number, so it is interesting that, after being appointed captain, Clifford has been wearing No.14. Just in case.

Crowds flock to see the genius of those men listed previously. Even the most jaded of sports writers, who feel that just one more evening spent in a cold press box transcribing quotes would send them mad, can feel the sap rising when they are in the same ground as someone like Clifford.

There is so much to admire about him that it isn't confined to onlookers.

I recently had a conversation with a prominent county footballer in Ulster, during which he broke down and analysed how Clifford used the way he can bounce a ball as a means to throw off a defender.

When even direct opponents are drooling at his abilities, you recognise that he is a once-in-a-generation talent.

In footballing nurseries such as All-Ireland finalists Kilcoo and Corofin, they recognise that no player is made in the hour-and-a-half or so of training they receive down at the club

Like Clifford, those kind of players are often earmarked from an early age. For example, when Frank McGuigan was in the underage game, there was already a small army of Tyrone football men who would travel the county to get a glimpse of the rising star.

McGuigan's talents were perhaps not fully realised as he spent a good portion of his prime in New York, but on a prolonged stay at home he put on an exhibition in the 1984 Ulster final win over Armagh, hitting 11 points - five off either foot and one fisted effort.

That evening, a young lad by the name of Peter Canavan went home and recognised that the key to success was developing his less dominant foot.

And so he spent a while hammering a football off a turf stack in the shed that evening, and for hundreds of evenings afterwards. It left him, like McGuigan and Clifford, almost impossible to read.

On a subconscious level, defenders back off from that kind of threat, which gives the attacker precious split-seconds to process the picture in their head.

McGuigan was known as 'The King', while Canavan was labelled 'God' by an adoring Tyrone public.

When the present generation of players are asked for their childhood hero in matchday programmes, Canavan's name is never far away. He, like McGuigan, inspired generations coming after.

What Canavan and McGuigan had in common with Clifford is the ability to do anything off either hand or foot.

It is a facet of coaching that is criminally neglected, but it also requires the young, aspiring player to practice at home.

In footballing nurseries such as All-Ireland finalists Kilcoo and Corofin, they recognise that no player is made in the hour-and-a-half or so of training they receive down at the club.

The player is moulded by the time and concentration they put in at the gable wall of the house, or the turf stack in the shed.

Kilkenny hurling manager Brian Cody once came off with a great quote that gets to the heart of the benefit of practice: "Kilkenny is full of bad hurlers who are too good to go to the ball wall."

For £14 this weekend - providing you buy online and avoid the extra fiver charge on the day - you can go to Healy Park and catch Clifford in action, with Under-16s going free.

Get out there. Feed their imagination.

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