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comment David Clifford is rewinding memories to the 1970s era of pork-chop sideburns, to when Micko’s Kerry were kings

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Kerry's David Clifford in action against Galway's Sean Mulkerrin during the Allianz Football League Division 1 match

Kerry's David Clifford in action against Galway's Sean Mulkerrin during the Allianz Football League Division 1 match

Kerry's David Clifford in action against Galway's Sean Mulkerrin during the Allianz Football League Division 1 match

From John B to Con Houlihan to Brendan Kennelly, Kerry’s hills and hamlets have long been a landscape of creative wellsprings, abundant in lyricism and poetry and soulful storytelling.

David Clifford is merely the latest in the rich tradition of expressive Kingdom laureates, one more lavishly imaginative green and gold artist-in-residence.

That his eloquence is articulated with an O’Neill’s size five rather than a quill in no way diminishes its power to profoundly move his audience or to colour their dreams.

Like any seanchaí, Clifford is a natural-born poet and a compelling raconteur.

A ball at the feet of the Fossa minstrel becomes a soaring narrative that gallops across centuries of Kerry’s football folklore.

His concerts – for Clifford makes music almost every time he steps onto a rectangle of grass, coaxing a contest to purr and trill – are an ode to all the boys of summer that have made this rugged, beautiful Atlantic county a Motown of football.

Already, at just 22, he is one of The Supremes.

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David Clifford can help Peter Keane's Kerry knock Dublin off their perch

David Clifford can help Peter Keane's Kerry knock Dublin off their perch

David Clifford can help Peter Keane's Kerry knock Dublin off their perch

His back catalogue of work is a eulogy to those from whom he has accepted that green and gold baton.

There he is, a Nijinsky in studded pumps, transporting us to Maurice Fitzgerald’s golden 1997 September, a balletic swordsman defying both gravity and geometry. Lord of the dance, elevating his chosen code to an art form.

Then, with clinical finishing and superior swagger, remastering in vivid technicolour the best of Sheehy, Egan, Spillane; rewinding memories to the 1970s era of pork-chop sideburns, to when Micko’s men were kings.

And now, an unhurried study in grace, with the drop of a shoulder or a subtle feint, making space where there is none, he is a tribute act to the Gooch; an artist at his easel.

Clifford’s latest majestic eruption, an opening day sirocco that gusted both 3-6 and a warming rush of hope into the Tralee air, was as evocative and stirring as the best work of the wordsmiths of the opening paragraph.

His third goal, the one where he danced and swivelled and made time stand still, where seeing the picture unfold many pixels ahead of the rest he sold a dummy so perfect it unbalanced not only the Tribesmen’s defence but sent Eyre Square itself spilling into Galway Bay, had a little of Maurice, a little of Mikey, a little of Colm.

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In an instant it rendered some of Galway’s finest athletes impotent, as wobbly and top-heavy as sailors on the deck of an old schooner pummelled by a freak wave.

Clifford, immune to the weather which had lopsided the rest, imperiously stroked the ball into a gaping net.

Here was Messi carrying the Camp Nou to rapture; Seve, summoning the vision and touch to make the kind of magic found only in his Spanish fingers; Ali, transforming a roped canvass ring into a theatre of the highest human expression.

It was a cameo of such cleansing grace that, for a few perfect seconds, it shrunk the dimensions of the entire universe to the square footage where a young man worked the anvil of his genius.

Like John B Keane’s opus, it was a story centred around one man’s obsession with The Field. As with Kennelly’s gorgeous and haunting anthologies, it might have been titled a Love Cry.

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David Clifford celebrates with his Kerry team-mates after running riot against Galway

David Clifford celebrates with his Kerry team-mates after running riot against Galway

David Clifford celebrates with his Kerry team-mates after running riot against Galway

If there was regret at the conclusion of such a touching sonata, it was that the great Con Houlihan had not been present to swaddle the occasion in the vivid wrapping of his verse.

Watching Clifford sashay to a tune beyond the aural bandwidth of mere mortals, a celebrated line from Con’s Celtic brother-in-lyricism, Hugh McIlvanney, came rushing across the decades.

It is the one the one where he declared how one swivel of George Best’s pelvis was sufficient to leave his unfortunate opponent with “twisted blood”.

Clifford causes defenders to trip over their own red cells, he curdles their haemoglobin, spray-paints the walls of their sanity with their own plasma.

Michael Parkinson, the storied broadcaster, writer, and Barnsley fan, spoke at the weekend of the critical quality that facilitated sport in hooking his five-year-old self and, 80 years later, declining to loosen its grip.

“The chance to dream is what football is all about…that’s written into the DNA of the game here.”

It is a truth that seems to elude those who drone on in an incessant shower of grey about the scientific side of the game, about tactics and formations.

Sport works because it is a dream factory. It airlifts our imaginings beyond the everyday. It quickens the blood, electrifies the senses, promotes a communal conversation, plants seeds of hope in fallow fields.

Who knows if Clifford can sherpa Kerry over the towering Himalayan peak that is the Dublin of Cluxton and Fenton and McCarthy and Kilkenny and Rock?

It could well be that when football’s old aristocratic houses convene in Thurles on Sunday afternoon, Dublin, unrivalled at solving the most testing puzzles, find a way to decommission Clifford’s nuclear arsenal.

It is just six championship months since Kerry fell to Cork who fell to Tipp who were trounced by a Mayo side who came up several furlongs short against the imperious, relentless, high-achieving Dubs.

Yet that roll-call of recent history tells only a fraction of the story.

Kerry, if their manager Peter Keane removes the cloak of caution he disastrously road-tested against Cork last November, are the one team with the shock and awe firepower to go toe-to-toe with the great champions.

They have Sean O’Shea, Paul Geaney, Killian Spillane, Tony Brosnan, James O’Donoghue, Stephen O’Brien, Dara Moynihan and Paudie Clifford.

That is seriously high-grade uranium.

But it is David Clifford’s once-in-a-generation talents that separates the isotope, enriches the uranium and delivers Kerry the potentials for endless warheads of nuclear capability.

The last number of years has shown us that any team engaging Dublin with a conservative game plan is doomed to a slow and miserable death.

Those Sky Blue emperors of summer are too patient and cerebral to be ruffled; like a master at his morning crossword, they quietly tease out the clues and, delving deep into their unrivalled sporting vocabularly, locate the solution.

Of course, transforming Thurles or Croke Park into an OK Corral for a shootout with the Wyatt Earp of the east is also fraught with boundless danger.

Dublin's cast of sharpshooters can send the best of the rest to Boot Hill.

But not only is such an approach most in tune with Kerry’s football DNA, it also allows their supporters – and the wider football public – to understand the truth in Michael Parkinson’s wise words about sport being at its best when it becomes a vehicle for our dreams.

So, the prayer-mat is put down that Keane does not allow himself be enslaved by caution. And that he instead locates the courage to facilitate a style of play that permits Clifford to explore the outer-limits of his freakish gifts.

Maybe it won't be enough, but it is surely better not to die wondering.

Anything other than handing Clifford a blank canvass to fill with his poetry would feel like wrenching the pen from the grasp of John B or Con or Brendan Keneally, and switching off the wellspring of Kerry lyricism.

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