‘He’s after getting ferociously strong… have a good prayer beforehand’ – how to mark David Clifford

MARC Ó SÉ’S advice for a defender tasked with patrolling the elusive David Clifford? Say your prayers.

With the form he’s in at the moment, there’s very little an opponent can do to subdue the former Young Footballer of the Year.

He kicked 1-6 in a dominant display against Dublin last weekend, converting a late penalty to ensure a share of the spoils after Kerry rallied back from seven points down. 

Ó Sé is considered to be one of the best defenders of his generation, but he fears he would have struggled to measure up to Clifford’s quality.

“With a player like David Clifford, it’s so hard to mark him,” he said in conversation with Maurice Brosnan and Fintan O’Toole on this week’s edition of The42 GAA Weekly.

“You look at [Mick] Fitzsimons the last day and the way he tried to marshall him, and the one thing he tried to do was he tried to put him on his weak foot straight away.

“But sure Clifford scored three points with his weak foot straight away. So what would I do if I was trying to mark Clifford? I’d have a good prayer beforehand anyway and when the ball does come in, I would try and deny [him] the ball first of all.

“What I’ve noticed from himself, even this year, and with Seán O’Shea [as well], they’ve gotten stronger. Seán O’Shea is a beast of a man now. Give him another year or two and he’ll be like Ciarán Kilkenny. 

“I think Clifford is after getting so ferociously strong that he can win a ball and hold you off with one hand. So, I don’t know what I would do to be quite honest. I’d say deny possession would be the key thing.

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“Do what Fitzsimons did and try to play him onto his right [foot] but you’d be trying to get down on that boot as well and try to get a few blocks.

“I think the easiest thing to do would be to have a good prayer beforehand and see would that work. Or as Fr Ted says, ‘We might say another mass.’

Two games deep into the 2021 league campaign, and Kerry are currently leading the Division 1 South table, but are level on points with Dublin.

They made a powerful start to the competition as they inflicted a 4-21 to 0-11 victory over Galway, with Clifford contributing 3-6 to that tally. Peter Keane’s side followed that up with a compelling contest against the six-in-a-row champions with a trip to Roscommon coming up this weekend.

“I’ve been impressed at stages, very impressed against Galway,” says Ó Sé when asked for an assessment of their performances so far.

“We got a reality check after that. If you were to judge the Dublin-Kerry game in Thurles on its first-half merits, you’d be very worried about where Kerry are at.

“You’d nearly be understanding of what they were set-up so defensively last year the way they were. 

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“In our county, we always had this attacking style. If you have good forwards, and Kerry have quality forwards at the moment, I think it definitely helps, with an emphasis on kicking quick ball into the forwards of the calibre of Seán O’Shea or David Clifford.

“If you can get balls into them quickly, it’s very hard for the opposition defence. There’s for and against for sure because you are leaving yourself open at the back. I think Kerry will definitely have to do a load of work [with] their inside defensive line.

“Trying to get the balance right is the big thing and that’s the big challenge in front of Peter Keane from a Kerry point of view because whilst the forwards have been going very well, defence is where you’re going to have to get the balance right.

“Gavin Crowley has come in and done a great job. People were mourning the loss of Peter Crowley [but] Gavin Crowley is a good fit there, I think. He’s aggressive, a bit like Crowley was.”

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