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Deep Down, Paudie Clifford Always Knew He Had Kerry Chance

Deep Down, Paudie Clifford Always Knew He Had Kerry Chance
By PJ Browne
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Three years ago, in the first round of the Sigerson Cup, Paudie Clifford showed there was a maverick element to his game. While playing for UCC against AIT, a match in which he scored a hat-trick, the Kerryman headed the ball to the net for one of his side's seven goals.

"I think it might have been wet that night, and it would have been tough to catch it," says Clifford with a smile as he recalls the moment.

"It was just close enough to my head, so just headed it from about two yards out."

Though it was an unconventional finish, UCC manager Billy Morgan let it pass without comment.

"I scored a header before in [an U16] club game, and the manager lost the plot," adds the 25-year-old.

UCC won the Sigerson Cup that year, beating St Mary's in the final, with a team heavily populated by Clifford's county comrades. For Clifford, it was an important stop on his journey to emulating his younger brother David by becoming a Kerry senior player.

"Billy threw me in, gave me a chance with UCC," he says.


"I had been in CIT for four years. Went from there. He was great. Gave me a lot of advice but let me do my own thing at the same time. He was a great mentor, a great manager.

"The team we had was full of inter-county players. Cork players, Clare, a few Limerick, Tipp and Kerry. I got a alot from playing with them, I learned a lot off them. Realised maybe I can play at this level."

Pictured at Dún Chaoin Pier Road, West Kerry is (left to right) Comórtas chairman Pádraig Óg Ó Sé with Kerry footballers Niamh Ní Chonchuir and Paudie Clifford ahead of the Lidl Comórtas Peile Páidí Ó Sé 2022, the famed men's and ladies club Gaelic football festival which takes place all across the Dingle Peninsula this weekend.

Two years earlier, Kerry junior manager Jimmy Keane omitted Clifford from the county panel, but by the following season, he was a key player for the Kingdom's second tier team. He scored 1-3 in the All-Ireland semi-final against Kildare, and a goal as Kerry beat Galway by two points in the final to win their fourth consecutive title. The latter happened the day before his brother David scored a late equalising goal for Kerry in the Super 8s against Monaghan.

'It gives you that feeling of putting on the Kerry jersey in the big stadiums'

"It's a pity that it's not there any more," Clifford, who didn't play at minor or U21 level for Kerry, says about the All-Ireland Junior Championship.


"I don't really know why the other counties kind of lost interest; even when I played junior, and we won a Munster championship, it was just straight to that Munster final against Cork.

"It's a great stepping stone. It gives you that feeling of putting on the Kerry jersey in the big stadiums. Maybe they could look into revitalising it and bringing it back."

In 2019, he won a Kerry SFC title with East Kerry - the first of two-in-a-row - and was called up to Peter Keane's Kerry senior panel for the 2020 season. Had he not suffered a broken ankle earlier in the year during a County League game, an injury which kept him out of action for three-and-a-half months, his phone may have buzzed with Keane's number a little earlier.


"Deep down I always kind of thought I had a chance, but there would have been days alright when I thought probably that I’d stop kind of pursuing trying to play for Kerry," he says.

"I felt that if I could get in there, that I could let my football do the talking. I had that in the back of my mind.

"I wouldn't say [I felt] pressure because if it wasn't inter-county football I was playing, there's other things I could be doing, so it wouldn't have been the end of the world either.


"I did a lot of gym work, did a lot of speed work as well. That was probably the big thing, my body developed. I kind of always had the football, I just had to develop my body and that’s probably what changed."

Clifford made his senior inter-county debut late in 2020. Though, with Kerry booted out of the championship by Mark Keane's goal in the Munster semi-final, his maiden season was short-lived.

30 May 2021; David Clifford of Kerry celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the Allianz Football League Division 1 South Round 3 match between Roscommon and Kerry at Dr Hyde Park in Roscommon. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

2021 forged better memories. The season ended in disappointment with an All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Tyrone, but the Clifford brothers won All-Stars. For the pair who'd spent their youth kicking ball around a 'decent sized' lawn in Fossa, it was a special moment.

"In primary school, he was playing with our senior team when he was in second class," Paudie recalls about his brother.

"It was only a three teacher school - we were short numbers - but he was starting and playing well.

"When he was playing under-12 or 14, he would have been putting up massive scores, that was probably when people started to take notice and we started to realise that he was going to be fairly good.

"We’ve always been different players. We have different skills, different things that we’re good at. I’ve always played a bit more out the field than him.

"I'm not a centre forward the whole time. I can do that, but I'm probably at my best when I'm given more of a free role; I can come in and out. I like to go back the field as well at times, if needed. A free role, to an extent, is probably my favourite position."

The winter was a season of change in the Kingdom as Peter Keane was shown the door. That was despite Kerry only being knocked out of the championship after losing by a point in extra-time to eventual All-Ireland champions Tyrone. For the third time, Jack O'Connor was installed as manager.

"Jack has his own style," says Clifford.

"He’s a very good man-manager. Himself and Paddy (Tally) and the rest of the management team are doing great work and we’re enjoying the training sessions, which is the main thing.

"I wouldn’t say [we're] confident; we’re hopeful. We know how competitive it is. I have never seen Division 1 as competitive. There are going to be no easy games and there are going to be no easy games come the end of the championship either."

See Also: Colm O'Rourke Sees Bleak Prospects For Leinster Football

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