"I certainly won't be holding any grudges with them fellas and I hope they'll do the same." - Clifford shows class after late junior final drama
Fossa 0-19 Stewartstown Harps 1-13
The All-Ireland junior football final between Fossa and Stewartstown Harps turned into something of a farce for a finish
In the end, six players were sent off, four Stewartstown men and the two Cliffords for Fossa, as, just like that, tempers flared in a climax that, quite simply, had to be seen to be believed.
It all kicked off, really, when sub Anton Coyle hit Paudie Clifford with the nastiest of elbows to earn himself a straight red card as the clock ticked towards injury time.
Everyone was on edge from that moment onwards and and it all boiled over, a couple of minutes later, when a row broke out between the two teams. It was a clumsy David Clifford tackle that kickstarted a frenzy that, quick as a flash, developed into something more.
The scenes were mad really, as Paudie Clifford looked to evade the controversy only to be tailgated by two or three Stewartstown men. You'd nearly forget that a football game was being played. You'd definitely forget that there were only three points between the teams.
As they became so wrapped up in aggression and score-settling, the Harps certainly seemed to forget that they still had a chance in this game.
In the end, as the whole thing went to pot, the row resulted in five red cards and some ugly scenes. It's hard to do it justice in writing so, really, will have to watch the video to catch up on it all.
Typically, David Clifford was the man-of-the-match, the star of the show and having kicked 0-11, 0-8 from play, he was very calm and sporting in his post-match interview after Fossa held on for their most famous win.
"It was a tough game, but there's an awful lot at stake," Clifford commented on the row.
"I certainly won't be holding any grudges with them fellas and I hope they'll do the same. There's so much emotion. But these things can happen."
"It's definitely one of them (the best days)," he added.
“Thankfully we came out in the second half and got the job done!” 👌
Is é David Clifford Laoch na hImeartha inniu!
Comhghairdeas leat 👏👏#GAABEO #TheToughest @GAA_BEO | @officialgaa | @AIB_GAA
BEO/LIVE AR @TG4TV pic.twitter.com/xPcPmDYj05
— Spórt TG4 (@SportTG4) January 15, 2023
It didn't take David Clifford long to get going in this one. The Footballer of the Year had a couple of touches of the ball, nothing major, before well, before he decided to make his mark.
He was being marked tightly, it has to be said, with Stewartstown's Darren Devlin giving him close attention, but isn't that the story every day. The Fossa full forward always finds a way.
He slipped the Tyrone side their first real warning after four minutes as, like a ghost, he escaped from Devlin's clutches before a dummy solo set him up for a thunderous finish. A yard lower and the net would have burst but you couldn't help but notice that this was like a repeat of those minor games he dominated a few years ago.
It was an ominous sign for the Tyrone side because their opponent was clearly too good for the level.
But Stewartstown were too good for the level too.
As a team, they seemed to have a greater balance than Fossa and, running with the ball, they always seemed to have more pace and more numbers than their opponents.
They also had Gareth Devlin.
The first half turned into the battle of the 14s as, between them, David Clifford and the former Tyrone player shot the lights out. Devlin won an All-Ireland minor for the Red Hand in 2004, scoring a point from wing forward against Kerry, and he was also in and out of Mickey Harte's panels over the years.
He's 35 now but out there in Croke Park, 18 years after losing this same final to Paul Galvin's Finuge, he showed that, even after all these years, he still has it. He ended the first half with 1-3. Clifford had 0-4. Stewartstown led by three.
They were 4/1 at the start of this game, Fossa were 1/6 and while the bookmakers might have been nervous at half-time, they were proved right in the second half. Having had a quiet first half, Paudie Clifford made up for it with the first point of the second half.
Cian O'Shea also came into the game for Fossa, as did the soaring Matt Rennie - who caught a number of kick-outs- and Harry Buckley, who ended his day with 0-3 from play.
The brother followed him over and suddenly, out of nowhere, Stewartstown were struggling. Their mountain was about to become an Everest though, 15 minutes into the second half when the aforementioned Darren Devlin was red carded.
— Billy O'Shea (@billyoshea77) January 15, 2023
The Harps number three only had himself to blame as he had struck the impressive Emmett O'Shea to the face. To their credit, the Tyrone champs didn't lie down from here on in, keeping it competitive right to the finish, but they couldn't get Gareth Devlin into it again, and Clifford kept them at bay.
Of course he did. And now, along with the brother, he's won it all.