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new kingdom ‘I always had the football, I just had to develop my body’ – Kerry’s Paudie Clifford

Belief and gym work have helped All-Star forward join his brother in Kerry’s attack


Paudie Clifford in action for Kerry against Kildare in the opening round of the National League in Newbridge. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Paudie Clifford in action for Kerry against Kildare in the opening round of the National League in Newbridge. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Paudie Clifford in action for Kerry against Kildare in the opening round of the National League in Newbridge. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

When Paudie Clifford stuck his head on a loose ball and nodded to the net in the Sigerson Cup, the reaction was both predictable and understandable.

It was reported afterwards that ‘David Clifford’s brother’ had scored a header in UCC’s romp past Athlone IT in early 2019. These days, however, Paudie is very much his own man.

It’s taken a little bit of time. He needed patience, some luck as well as hard work. His route to the sharp end of county football wasn’t as smooth as that of his brother, who was once considered for selection for the Kerry seniors while still a minor.

Paudie, though, had to serve his time. The day before David kept Kerry’s championship hopes alive with a last-gasp equalising goal against Monaghan in Clones in the Super 8s, Paudie helped the Kerry juniors to an All-Ireland title. Far from dissuading him, watching his little brother star in the championship actually lit a fire in him.

“It probably gave me belief that I could, (thinking) ‘If he’s able to do that, I can play at a similar level’.”

He only made his first start for Kerry last year but these days, the elder Clifford’s significance is undeniable. The 25-year-old started all four of Kerry’s championship games in 2021 and while there’s been a change of management in the Kingdom, Clifford remains front and centre.

Under Jack O’Connor, he’s played every minute of league football so far this season, save for injury-time in the win over Dublin.

So, what has changed?

“It would have been my body developed, I did a lot of gym work, did a lot of speed work as well,” he said at the launch of Lidl Comórtas Peile Páidí Ó Sé 2022 which takes place this weekend (February 25-27).

“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, yeah.”

So the gym work helped but other things have combined to help him on his way. An ankle break cleared up and he’s remained largely injury-free. éamonn Fitzmaurice has since agreed that perhaps Clifford should have been closer to his thoughts during his spell in charge. Clifford himself points to Billy Morgan as one of his major influences. And that run to Sigerson glory, in a team that included the likes of Seán O’Shea, helped him believe he could compete at the highest level.

“The team we had was full of inter-county players. Cork players, Clare, a few Limerick, Tipp and Kerry. I learned a lot off them. I realised maybe I can play at this level. That was probably what changed.”

Then he nodded one into the net and briefly became an internet sensation when a clip of his goal went viral.

“(Billy Morgan) actually didn’t say anything! I scored a header before in a club game, and the manager lost the plot. Billy didn’t actually say anything.”

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More importantly, that campaign gave him belief

“Deep down I always kind of thought I had a chance (of playing with Kerry) but yeah, there would have been days all right when I thought probably that I’d stop kind of pursuing trying to play for Kerry. But deep down I always thought I had a small chance.

“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.”

* * * * *

From as early as Paudie can recall, the Clifford boys loved their football. A little over two years between them, they grew up playing games on the lawn. And when they weren’t doing that, they bounced around the county with their father who was a referee.

“My Mam and Dad are massive football fans, go to every game. Every club game, anything that’s on. We were always just playing out the side of our house. We have a decent enough size of a lawn, and a wall, and a goal so just playing against each other for years. That’s how it all started. It being so competitive helped.

“You’re at an advantage there having a brother who is similar enough in age and you can be challenging each other. Making up different kind of games to play against each other.”

Paudie knew his brother was good. David was playing with the sixth-class team while he was just in second. Then there was his exploits with the club which quickly translated into a stellar underage career with Kerry.

“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.”

The romantic version of the story goes that the Clifford boys share a telepathy honed on the lawn at home and on the pitch with Fossa and East Kerry.

It’s at least as likely that their link-up is a product of Paudie preferring to operate around the middle, with David sticking closer to goals.

“We’ve always been different players. We have different skills, different things that we’re good at. That would have never been a problem because we’ve always been different players. I’ve always played a bit more out the field than him.”

These days they are central to the cause of Fossa, East Kerry and Kerry. Both the Clifford brothers picked up All-Stars for their performances in 2021 but last year’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat haunted him through the winter: “Basically tough the whole time until we came back, really. There is no other way of putting it.”

But they are back on the road now, unbeaten and yet to concede a goal in the league.

Kerry are making all the right noises as they head for Inniskeen and a date with Monaghan on Sunday.

Clifford will likely be one of the first names on the team sheet again.

Having had to bide his time, he’s keen to chase down every opportunity that comes Kerry’s way.

“I wouldn’t say 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.”

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