'Best player in Ireland' David Clifford too much for Stewartstown to contain

Kerry superstar David Clifford (holding his son, Ogie) scored 0-11 to help his club Fossa beat Stewartstown Harps in the AIB Club All-Ireland JFC Final. Pic Philip Walsh
Kerry superstar David Clifford (holding his son, Ogie) scored 0-11 to help his club Fossa beat Stewartstown Harps in the AIB Club All-Ireland JFC Final. Pic Philip Walsh

Stewartstown people could be forgiven for cursing fate's conspiracy to deny them an All-Ireland title.

Two appearances in the Junior Club final have seen them collide with Kerry sides adorned with All-Stars.

Back in 2005, it was Paul Galvin and Eamonn Fitzmaurice who led Finuge to victory, and on Sunday, the Clifford brothers powered Fossa to title triumph.

The finest defenders in the game have been humbled by the magical brilliance of David Clifford, so what chance for a third tier club team?

Predictably, the Footballer of the Year seized his moment, shooting 11 points in another jaw-dropping display of finishing.

"He's an unbelievable forward, he's the best forward in Ireland by a mile," said Stewartstown attacker Dylan McElhatton.

Clifford's marker, full back Darren Devlin, was sent off seven minutes into the second half, leaving the Ulster champions with an infinitely more daunting task.

"Up until the red card, Darren was doing very well on him, but nobody is going to keep him out of the game," said McElhatton.

"And ultimately, after Darren was sent off, he stepped it up, kicked a few points, but I thought that every man that went on to him did themselves proud, because he's just the difference-maker in any game he's been playing in."

To lose by just three points to a team built around the game's greatest attacker may represent a moral victory, particularly in light of the fact that the Harps finished with only 11 players on the field.

McElhatton, creator of the game's only goal for Gavin Devlin, insisted the Tyrone men approached the game with a conviction that they were good enough.

"We had absolutely no fear going into this game. Fossa have two of the top players in Ireland, the two Cliffords. I think we were up to the task.

"Every lad who stepped out on to that pitch can be proud of themselves, they worked their socks off, and it's devastating to be on the losing end of it. There had to be a loser, and unfortunately it was us. We' re just devastated."

As they chased the game in the closing stages, Stewartstown discipline faltered, with three more players sent off, along with both Clifford brothers, dismissed in stoppage time.

"To have one man sent off was bad enough, but things just got a bit ragged, we were chasing the game towards the end.

"Four red cards in a game is not ideal, especially when you're up against a team like Fossa with the two Cliffords in it."

A memorable campaign is over for the Harps, but they have another challenge ahead, with a return to Intermediate football in Tyrone demanding another rise in standards.

"Intermediate football in Tyrone, I would argue, would be the toughest in Ireland," said 25-year-old McElhatton.

"It's top quality teams, every single one. Even in Junior football, the likes of Strabane, Aghaloo, Drumragh, all ran us close this year, so Tyrone football is in a good place at all grades. We saw Errigal Ciaran pushing Glen, and Glen are now sitting in an All-Ireland final too."