STEPHEN O’BRIEN WAS an ever-present on the Kerry half-forward line last summer, meaning he had a front-row seat for David Clifford’s stunning breakthrough campaign.
Stephen O’Brien celebrates scoring a goal against Cork with David Clifford.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
The Fossa star arrived into the season on the back of heavy interest from the AFL and a truckload of expectation on his young shoulders before he even kicked a ball with the seniors.
He enjoyed a few stand-out games in the league and played well in Munster, but Clifford really shone for the Kingdom in the Super 8s – scoring 4-14 across three games.
The 19-year-old’s impact in the championship saw him named Young Footballer of the Year and awarded with his first All-Star over the winter.
“He has ferocious talent, it’s unbelievable,” says O’Brien of his fellow attacker.
“I know he’s only a young fella, but he doesn’t look young. He’s huge. He’s well able for the physical side of things. His ability is there for all to see.
“He really kicked on in the Super 8s for Kerry in the championship, but I think everyone inside there knew that was in him. Even when the games weren’t going as well in him, it doesn’t take a genius to tell that he’s a class footballer.
“He’s a mighty man altogether. In fairness to him, he’s very down to earth. We were having a bit of a sing-song there (recently) and he’s unbelievable at singing as well so he just has it all.
“He won some golf tournament as well last year but he wasn’t eligible. He’s just one of these fellas that has it all. I’ll come back to ye if I find anything that he’s not good at!”
As well as his on-field talent, Clifford is a deep-thinker of the game.
“Talking football you can tell that he thinks about it a lot. He told me before that he goes to a lot of club games.
“He has ideas about what way the ball is coming in and stuff like that and runs – he has brilliant movement off the ball. He clearly has a ridiculous football intelligence as well.”
In addition to Clifford, Eamonn Fitzmaurice also brought through Sean O’Shea and Gavin White last year and both had major impacts on Kerry’s season.
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Stephen O’Brien was speaking at the Allianz Football League launch in Croke Park.
Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Following the final round Super 8s win over Kildare in Killarney, which wasn’t enough to see the Kingdom progress, Fitzmaurice informed the team of his decision to step down.
He’d been there every step of O’Brien’s senior career with the county. Fitzmaurice managed him at U21 level in 2012 and introduced the Kenmare Shamrocks man to the senior set-up in 2014 – when they went on to lift the Sam Maguire.
Fitzmaurice did plenty for O’Brien off the field too.
“The man is class personified. He’s just a quality man really. He had a big impact on my life, outside of football even as well. He’s a role model or a kind of father figure, that’s how I would see him.
“At the end of the day, the last two years didn’t finish well. I don’t think through any fault of Eamonn, but at the end of the day it comes down to the manager. The book stops with him.
‘It’s obviously emotional when he was such a huge part of your life for seven years or whatever it was, and then that’s gone.
“(He was) a role model, but even I used him as a work reference for a CV, things like that. He’d be handy that way. It meant a lot coming from him.”
The inter-county famine is about to end, giving way to a nine-week feast of Allianz Football League action between the weekend after next and the four divisional finals in Croke Park on 30/31 March. The exciting programme features 116 games across the four divisions in a campaign which will mark the 27th year of Allianz’ partnership with the GAA as sponsor of the Allianz Leagues, making it one of the longest-running sponsorships in Irish sport.
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