SO, how you do stop David Clifford? The hype train has been at full speed since the prodigious Kerry footballer came on the scene, but it’s justified.
The 21-year-old Fossa man, from just outside Killarney and from the same parish as actor Michael Fassbender, is more than just a Hollywood footballer, he is the key man for Kerry. It makes sense, so, that limiting his influence can increase your chances of success against Kerry. Every team has tried, but no-one has succeeded yet.
If Cork are to cause a shock in Sunday’s Munster semi-final, they need to curb his influence. Clifford ‘only’ scored 0-3 against Cork in last year’s Munster final yet Kerry still won. The Kingdom aren’t a one-man team but they have one man who is head and shoulders above the rest. Here’s the West Cork guide to stopping Clifford:
TIE HIM TO GOALPOSTS: Okay, this isn’t a runner, but it was a suggestion. The general consensus is that Clifford can’t be stopped, so the next best outcome is to limit his impact on the game.
PICK THE BEST MAN FOR THE JOB: ‘Put your best man-marker on Clifford, and he would also have to be able to compete physically with him,’ Clonakilty football boss Colm Aherne says.
That match-up is key, as Carbery Rangers manager Michéal O’Sullivan explains: ‘Try to match his physicality, size, agility and pace with your choice of marker. Stopping him is a big ask but limiting his influence is more attainable.’
CUT THE SUPPLY LINE: ‘You have to try and limit the amount and the perfection of the ball going into Clifford by putting as much pressure as possible on around the middle eight,’ says Kilmacabea junior football boss Kevin O’Driscoll.
The ball into Clifford must be contaminated, adds O’Donovan Rossa football coach Shane Crowley: ‘Possession is key and Cork need to starve Clifford of it. No matter how well you mark a player like him, they will always create chances once they have possession. Cork need to put serious pressure on the supply coming in, put the passer under serious pressure so that the pass coming into Clifford is contaminated; it’s a poor ball in because of the pressure out the field.’
West Cork senior ladies football selector Anne O’Grady says: ‘There will be a huge amount asked of Cork forwards, to pressure the Kerry kick-out and leave no ball out easy.’
STOP SEANIE: ‘To stop that quality ball going in, Sean O’Shea is the fella I would be looking at to close down,’ Castlehaven senior football manager James McCarthy explains.
‘Sean O’Shea makes them tick, gets on a lot of ball and he would be the man popping the ball into Clifford a lot of the time so Cork need to slow the ball into O’Shea first, and that will help slow the ball into Clifford and give his marker a chance until the reinforcements arrive.’
PLENTY OF COVER: ‘Make sure the number five, six and seven slots are filled at all times and have a second defender close by at all times to double up on him,’ Colm Aherne says, and Michéal O’Sullivan thinks the same: ‘You need to win the battle in the middle third to limit fast, accurate ball. Cut the space in front of him by either sitting the half-back line a bit deeper or withdrawing extra players.’
Having that cover is very important, according to Shane Crowley: ‘Cork will need their best man-marker on him, be very physical on him when he has the ball, as well as always having a second player to double team him when he's on it. It could be simply just a sweeper in front of him to cut out the ball into him.’
SAVAGE WORK-RATE: ‘Cork need that manic aggression in the middle third to stop the supply and starve him,’ Shane Crowley points out.
Anne O’Grady adds: ‘Cork must put pressure on Kerry much further out the field and force as many errors as possible. This will be a panel game, players will have to run themselves into the ground and fresh players when they come in will have to do the same.’
Michéal O’Sullivan says: ‘It's going to be a team effort to limit a player of Clifford’s ability. Cork need to be ferocious, accurate in everything they do.’
A key man of Ilen Rovers senior football management team, Flor O’Driscoll agrees: ‘When Cork are not in possession we will need to get bodies back quickly and try to kill the scoring space. Aggressive pressure, good tackling and discipline will be key it that.’
TRACK HIM DOWN: ‘To prevent Clifford having a major influence Cork must employ a tracker to come across his runs and cut off the supply,’ Carbery football boss Tim Buckley believes. ‘This is a tactic predominantly employed by Ulster teams and involves playing an extra man in front of the full-forward line with the dual responsibly of tracking the ball in (rather than man-mark him) and converting the possession gained into attack options.’
MAKE CLIFFORD WORK: ‘Whoever is marking Clifford should turn him around from time to time, force him to come back and work off the ball – forwards never really want to do that,’ Anne O’Grady says.
Michéal O’Sullivan agrees: ‘Make Clifford work when Cork have the ball, so get his marker up the pitch and on the ball.’
Dohenys senior football manager Denis Healy says: ‘I would encourage Clifford’s marker to get forward in every attack we have as to draw him out the field. This is to prevent Clifford getting his hands on too much ball inside the forty because the less ball he gets his hands on, the less damage he can do.’
PLAY SMART: ‘Cork must express themselves. If they are only thinking of Clifford, it’s damage limitation. Cork have good forwards and a strong midfield but they need protection in the back. How they do that is you don’t give a ball away in the forwards. If every ball went dead and Kerry had to kick it out, it’s 50-50 again. If you lose the ball attacking, I don’t care what backs you have, Kerry will open you up. Cork need to run at them, be positive and let the ball in fast, but there might be a time to slow the ball down too,’ explains James McCarthy.
If Cork play clever, it will give the Rebels a real chance, Tim Buckley believes: ‘We can’t afford to go toe to toe and the game needs to be slowed a way down and we need to frustrate Kerry, this will allow Cork to pack the middle third, which we are good at, and nullify the supply in from the Kerry middle eight.’
It’s important to make the most of Cork’s pace too, as Flor O’Driscoll adds: ‘To limit the supply, the key is winning the middle third and be on the front foot as much as possible. It’s key that on turnovers we can counter at pace and retain possession by supporting the man on the ball.’
DON’T BE OBSESSED: ‘You can’t get too focused on one player either,’ says Anne O’Grady. ‘Kerry have massive quality but Cork will have to play their own game and focus on their own strength and tactics.
So, there it is, that’s how you stop David Clifford. It’ simple, really ....