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Four-goal David Clifford destroys Derry's All-Ireland minor ambitions

Kerry's four-goal hero David Clifford holds aloft the trophy after Kerry's All-Ireland minor final win over Derry at Croke Park Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran at Croke Park

Electric Ireland All-Ireland Minor Football Championship final: Derry 1-8 Kerry 6-17

IT was billed as David versus Goliath, the latest crop of talented Derry minors charged with loading the sling-shot and taking down the all-conquering Kerry beast rampaging towards a fourth All-Ireland title in-a-row.

Instead, it was a giant called David clad in green and gold who did the slaying, the latest star to come off a Kingdom production line that has gifted us greats like Mick O’Connell, Maurice Fitzgerald and ‘The Gooch’, among many others, laying waste to Oak Leaf hopes in the most ruthless fashion imaginable.

The brief before throw-in was apparently simple for Derry; stop David Clifford, and you’re halfway to stopping Kerry.

But with one All-Ireland minor medal already in his back pocket and no shortage of suitors from Down Under, the Fossa phenomenon was given the big build-up for good reason and duly delivered on the big stage, scoring 4-4 in a devastating display of pace, poise and panache.

“He’s a fantastic player,” said a glowing Kerry boss Peter Keane as the four in-a-row celebrations moved into full flow.

“Great hands, a good right, a good left, he’s a great team player, a good leader, has a great temperament and he’s a very solid individual. He’s great, a fantastic talent, but he would be the first to acknowledge there’s fantastic players around him who create the room for him, put the ball into him.

“Look, we’re delighted. We came to win, and that’s what we’re happy to have done.”

There has already been talk that Clifford is ready for the senior inter-county stage, provided Kerry can keep him from the grasps of Aussie Rules clubs, and Keane feels he is ready for the step up.

He added: “I don’t think he’s far away from it, that’s not trying to put pressure on him or anyone else, but I don’t think he’s a million miles away from it.”

Yesterday’s haul brought Clifford’s tally for the Championship summer to a breathtaking 8-41 over six games, and the first of yesterday’s majors came after just 11 seconds of play to throw Derry into disarray.

Catching a beautifully-flighted ball from Diarmuid O’Connor, he turned inside Conor McCluskey before coolly slotting home with his left foot. After 14 minutes Clifford shimmied beyond his marker again before cutting in and slotting home through a crowd of bodies, this time with his right foot.

Two minutes later, he picked the ball up on the 21-metre line and, in an instant, released a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Fiachra Clifford who made no mistake to extend Kerry’s lead to seven.

A point off either foot within a 60-second period 10 minutes before the break left punters shaking their heads in disbelief, before he went on to add two more goals just for good measure in the second half – the last one even allowing for a rare fumble before he found his bearings and lashed home again.

Clifford will rightly get the plaudits, as he contributed so much more than just scores on the board, but it would be unfair to pigeon-hole this Kerry side as a one-man team.

On a day when all but one of their scores came from play, the midfield pair of Barry Mahony and Diarmuid O’Connor dominated from start to finish, Jack Griffin and Fiachra Clifford worked like dogs and got their just rewards, while the defence gave Derry little room to breathe when the game was still there to be won.

Indeed, it was only when Derry boss Damian McErlain threw Callum Brown into the

full-forward line that the young Oak Leafers began to pose a serious attacking threat under the high ball, but by that stage the game was all but gone.

“Losing the early goal was tough,” admitted McErlain, who now goes on to take over the Derry seniors.

“All along, the aim was to take Kerry on, press up on them and see what they would do attacking-wise and there was nothing to suggest we couldn’t do that leading up to the match, but Kerry played very well today.

“An early goal would’ve been a target of ours but they’re a serious side, seriously athletic as well as being good footballers and we struggled to contain them all over the pitch.

“Clifford’s a serious target but they had some tremendous players running off the shoulder as well. We failed to contain that but the boys tried manfully and kept going right until the end.”

With considerable success enjoyed during McErlain’s reign, the future looks bright for Derry under the Newbridge man – as long as they can quickly banish the chastening memories of the day they came up against a teenage force of nature in green and gold.

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