JORGE Valdano, the Argentinian striker who scored the winning goal in the 1986 World cup final (needless to say, from a classic Maradona pass), was interviewed in the Guardian a fortnight ago. The chat turned to the little man. He said “How could you not look at Maradona? When he walks into the dining room everyone looks at him, players, staff, kitmen, the lot. If you’re Maradona? You have to respect his space, his habitat. You have to give him the ball even when he is marked.” He went on to tell this story, which I have been giggling about ever since…
“One day, Menotti (Argentine manager) calls a team meeting. When we get there, he tells Maradona he’s not allowed to come in; he doesn’t want him to hear what he’s going to say about him. Maradona goes. He sits us down and says: “Right, I have to ask you something. How many times do you think you have to give the ball to him during the game?” There’s a pause and Menotti says: “All of them. Right, tell Maradona to come back in.” It’s not good for him to find out, but it is good to “overuse” a genius. He wins you the game.”
I have been saying this for years about David Clifford. He has scored 20-169 this season to date, for club, county and college. Imagine what he would have scored if they passed him the ball more? Like Maradona, pressure is neither here nor there for him. After all, pressure is something mortal beings feel. It does not apply to Gods. In his last All-Ireland minor final, against Derry, he scored 4-4. Apparently, dogs cannot compute whether they are big or small. This explains why chihuahuas bark like crazy at alsations in the park. In the same way, the Derry defenders chased around after Clifford that afternoon. Fascinated and stunned by what I had just witnessed, I wrote that he would be the greatest footballer that ever lived. And so it has turned out.
In the National League final this year, he scored 1-6, including a scary solo goal. We looked at each other and thought where the hell did this guy come from? What the hell is this? Padraig O’Hora his marker is a UFC fighter, powerful, aggressive and a winner. He held Shane Walsh scoreless in Connaught the previous year. David was oblivious. In the All-Ireland semi-final against the Dubs, he scored 0-6 (0-5 from play) in a 1-14 to 1-13 win. In the final, like Maradona, he dominated in a way that has never been seen before. The greats – Canavan, Sheehy, The Bomber, Con O’Callaghan, have all had big days and some great moments. But nothing like this. Day after day. Big day after big day. The biggest days. He is always the focus of attention. We cannot resist looking at him, talking about him. His team relies on him to win.
Without him, Kerry would be schmucks like everyone else, struggling on, wondering whatever happened to the great minor teams. The opposition’s defensive strategy, strike that, the opposition’s entire strategy, is based around trying to stop him. The Kerry supporters. The opposition supporters. The entire country. We are thinking only of Clifford. In the final, he played with his usual joy and perfection, scoring a colossal 0-8 and leading his team home.
In this year’s Kerry senior final, he scored 1-9 (2 frees) to bring a third senior title in four years. In the Junior final, he scored 2-12 (6 frees) to win it for Fossa. Imagine being the poor critter in the other dressing room, pulling on the boots, looking forward to the game, then the manager pulls him aside and says, “Son I hate to do this to you, but you’re picking up Clifford today.” “Oh, for f*** sake.” In the Munster junior final, he only managed 0-10. This constant brilliance is unheard of. Even Maradona had off days.
He has other advantages over the little Argentinian. Maradona was 5’5”. David is 6’4”. Maradona was left footed. David will take it whatever way it comes, on either foot, from either sideline, single marked, double marked, who cares?
After each big win in the 1986 World Cup, the Argentinian team danced in the dressing room and sang the Maradona song, the little man joining in joyfully. It is surely time for the Kerry team to sing the Clifford song.
He has one senior All-Ireland now. What happens next depends on whether his Kerry team mates start passing him the ball.