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How The Elder Clifford Became Kerry's Missing Link

How The Elder Clifford Became Kerry's Missing Link

As part of our GAA Embedded coverage, each week we will profile a player in action over the coming weekend. This week, it's Kerry forward Paudie Clifford.

The match-ups, who from Tyrone will mark Kerry's star forwards, has been one of the major talking points in the protracted build-up to Saturday's All-Ireland semi-final.

Ronan McNamee on David Clifford, Pádraig Hampsey on Seán O'Shea seems to be the consensus. And there in the conversation too, in what is essentially his debut championship season, is Paudie Clifford.

It is s a mark of the impact David's older brother has made in such a short period that pundits are pondering how Tyrone will curb his influence. Michael McKernan was suggested as the man for the job by Oisín McConville on the Irish Examiner's podcast. Bring back Conor Gormley joked Peter Canavan.

Kerry manager Peter Keane called Clifford into the panel in late 2019, ahead of the 2020 championship. He had just helped East Kerry win their first Kerry Senior Football Championship title in 20 years (and would help them retain it in 2020).

Following the Munster final demolition of Cork last month, Tomás Ó Sé said he thought Clifford should have been part of the squad for the last three years. Eamonn Fitzmaurice was Kerry manager for the 2018 season, and the five before that.

"He was playing a good bit of soccer at the time, he wasn't playing as much football," Fitzmaurice explained regarding Clifford.

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"My last year in charge, he broke his leg. He used to go away over the summer. To be fair, he wasn't on my radar as much as he probably should have been."

When Clifford finally did get an opportunity, it was for just a minute as a sub in last November's loss to Cork in the Munster semi-final. It was not until the 2021 league that he really got his chance. He scored 1-2 in the demolition of Galway in May, and has not let up since.

In the championship, he scored two points against Clare, one against Tipperary, and three against Cork, but it is not with his scoring tallies that Clifford has impressed the most. It is as a provider.

Late in the first half of the Munster quarter-final versus Clare, he found Sean O'Shea standing on D with a laser-guided pass from midfield. The ball had barely touched Clifford's hands before he met it with his left-foot.

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In previous seasons, it would have been O'Shea providing the passes which led to goals. Clifford's introduction has allowed Kerry move the Kenmare man - one of their most dangerous players - closer to the danger area.

"The arrival of Paudie Clifford on the scene has freed up Seanie," said Kerry All-Ireland winner Darran O'Sullivan on Balls.ie's GAA Embedded show.

"Over the last two years, there was an overreliance on Seanie to be the outlet at centre-forward. It was hard going. He was having to sprint 40 or 50 yards with a man on his back, win ball, turn and play it in or shoot. It was a lot work for one man.

"The fact that Paudie comes out. He has energy to burn. He's a great, intelligent footballer. It's taken the burden of Seanie being that sole ball winner there.

"The best sign for me of Paudie so far, is that when Kerry were not going well [in the first half against Cork], he was the one carrying the fight, and still doing the right things at the right times."

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Another Kerry All-Ireland winning captain, Declan O'Sullivan - Kerry U20 manager this year - believes one of Clifford's great attributes is that his passing and scoring abilities are matched by his desire for hard work.

Kerry legend Declan O'Sullivan impressed by Paudie Clifford

"He has a good attitude and intensity around the field," said O'Sullivan earlier this summer.

"You need that when you're playing the likes of Dublin and Mayo. You need that ability to get up and down the field. You need to be defensively contributing as well, just as much as attacking. Paudie has that.

"It was just a matter of time when he was going to come onto the senior level. There's a lot of great work being done in East Kerry at the moment. They've won a couple of county championships. Paudie, a bit like myself, playing for a club (Fossa) lower down the divisions, even if you are playing well, people say 'Can he do it at the higher level?'

"East Kerry have allowed him to show on a bigger platform in terms of winning county championships that he can do it at a higher level. Obviously at Kerry junior level he's been very impressive as well.

"He's stepped up to the plate in every jump that he's done. He's settled in very well to the Kerry seniors. He's been very impressive."

See Also: Paul Walsh Explains How He Got To Hang Out With Ronaldinho In Rio

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PJ Browne
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