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Clifford star of the show as ruthless Kingdom put Derry to sword

Derry 1-08 Kerry 6-17

By John Campbell

There is no substitute for class and sadly Derry certainly discovered this to their cost at a packed Croke Park yesterday.

In what proved an embarrassingly one-sided All-Ireland minor football final at Croke Park, the Oak Leaf side absorbed a chilling lesson that is likely to remain with them for some time.

And one player more than any other heaped agony, heartbreak and frustration on the Ulster champions on a day that will live in their memories for all the wrong reasons.

When David Clifford rocketed the ball to Derry with just sixteen seconds of the match gone, it signalled the unveiling of a master-class in individual finishing skills and early confirmation that his side's fourth All-Ireland title on the trot was nothing more than a formality.

The tall, lean forward went on to terrorise the Derry defence to such an extent that a raft of switches and modifications to their strategy proved meaningless from the Ulster champions' perspective.

On a day when everything Clifford touched turned to his team's benefit on the scoreboard, his exquisite touch, blistering pace and sublime scoring technique left Derry shell-shocked.

Nor did disappointed manager Damian McErlain seek refuge in excuses after what had been a harrowing experience for his beleaguered outfit.

"This is a very good Kerry team," he said, "They are seriously athletic as well as being good footballers.

"We had a bad day at the office, there is no doubt about that.

"The early goal they got was a real blow from our viewpoint and we never recovered from it. But my players have not become poorer because of this, they are still proud to be representing Derry and they will be back."

McErlain's side had entered the fray hoping to prove that after defeats to the Kingdom in the closing stages of the All-Ireland series in each of the last two seasons they were ready to turn the corner.

Far from it, though. Kerry were much sharper, more cohesive and deadly accurate throughout.

"To be honest, we had hoped to get off to a good start and maybe hit them with an early goal, but once David Clifford put the ball in our net so early it was always going to be uphill for us," admitted McErlain.

"The lads tried their best and put a huge effort in but it was not enough on the day.

"Having said that, these boys have not become bad footballers overnight.

"I'm very proud of the commitment they have shown to Derry and the work they have put in this year. I think they can go on and impress in their future careers and take lessons from this experience."

Derry's defence was run ragged by Kerry's movement, invention and flair and their attack could not make any real headway against a rearguard that was efficient, cohesive and frugal.

When Clifford tucked away his second goal in the 14th minute, this lit the torch from a spell of pronounced dominance from his side that saw them score 2-5 without reply to enjoy a half-time cushion of 3-8 to 0-5.

Skipper Padraig McGrogan, midfield dynamo Oisin McWilliams and wing-forward did their best to stimulate Derry but the team simply buckled under the intensity of Kerry's relentless pressure in the second-half.

Fiachra Clifford, who was outstanding throughout, pounced for Kerry's fourth goal in the 35th minute and when David Clifford plundered two more in the 45th and 47th minutes, Derry's day of ignominy was complete.

The manner in which he tucked away those goals hinted at a player who could be about to embark on a fruitful career at senior level with the Kingdom - a fact conceded by Derry boss McErlain.

"When you see this level of talent you can only step back and admire it," said McErlain.

"Kerry were just too strong for us throughout and we had no answer to them on the day.

"Having said that, we will take certain things on board and move on from here."

With Clifford having already delivered his fatal blows, Derry's humiliation was not complete as a raft of points flowed from Kingdom boots in the last quarter that helped compile a score line which left them in tatters.

Yet the team never lost their discipline nor their desire to carry the fight to their opponents on the few occasions they were allowed to do so.

But there was to be no late consolation.

Kerry merely went through the motions of stockpiling points with almost contemptuous ease before referee Anthony Nolan's final whistle rescued Derry from their unimagined misery.

They will harbour sorrowful memories of what was a bad day at the office but know that a very special talent held centre stage on this occasion.

Derry: O Hartin; O McGill, C McCluskey, S McKeever; S McErlain, P McGrogan, C McShane; O McWilliams 0-2, D Rafferty; P Quigg 1-1 (1-0 pen), R Mullan 0-1, M Bradley; B McCarron, L McWilliams 0-2, M McGrogan 0-2. Subs: D Cassidy for McCluskey (h/t), C Brown for Rafferty (h/t), C Quinn for McCarron (h/t), O Quinn for McShane (44), J P Devlin for M McGrogan (44), T McHugh for Mullan (48).

Kerry: D Uosis; S O'Leary, C O'Donoghue, C Gammell; P Warren, M Potts, N Donohue; B Mahony, D O'Connor; A Donoghue 0-2, D Clifford 4-4, Donal O'Sullivan 0-2; F Clifford 2-0, J Griffin 0-2, B Friel 0-5 (1f). Subs: E Horan 0-1 for Griffen (44), Donnacdh O'Sullivan 0-1 for Donal O'Sullivan (45), C O'Reilly for F Clifford (53), M O'Leary for Gammell (56), R O'Neill for Donohue (57), M Slattery for Donoghue(59).

Referee: Anthony Nolan (Wicklow).

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