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16th Jul 2023

How David Clifford’s battle with Chrissy McKaigue started with a hand-shake and ended on their hunkers

Niall McIntyre

Derry 1-17 Kerry 1-15

Chrissy McKaigue shakes David Clifford’s hand.

Best of luck.

The Kerryman could write the book about man-markers, the things they’ll try, the avenues they’ll explore, so he might find it unusual when McKaigue opts not follow it up with the customary let-him-know-you’re there shoulder.

That’s not how the Slaughtneil man rolls.

McKaigue lets go, steps in behind Clifford, then peers out over his shoulder to see Joe McQuillan throwing the ball in. Game on.

Kerry win the first battle of midfield and as Paudie stands over a free on his own half-back-line, here we go, the two boys are inside, running and racing, pulling and dragging.

What’s this now, there are just two minutes on the clock but it can’t have been part of the plan, Derry are surely playing with fire because, lo and behold, they’re one-on-one.

Clifford zigs, McKaigue zags, this is a game of milli-seconds and Clifford has the yard, so Tahdg Morley bounces one into his chest.

Clifford turns and takes McKaigue for a run down the right hand side, he’s kept him out, he’s watching his left, but tight as he is, there’s nothing he can do when Clifford cuts out and scores.

It’s pure and utter class.

Seven minutes on the clock. Odhran Lynch has gone for a wander. McKaigue follows him up so, if only for a moment, Clifford is the only man inside the Derry half.

“He’s a dangerous man to be leaving alone,” laughs a Kerry voice behind me.

McKaigue tries it again four minutes later, give him something to think about, and Clifford follows him, but not for long.

He’s spoken before about passing backs off and Adrian Spillane was obviously listening, because it’s not long before the Templenoe man hops to it.

McKaigue’s foray leads to very little but when he comes back, things have changed. He’s getting very handsy now.

19 minutes. Clifford’s second point.

It’s deja-vu because with Derry flooding forward, everyone and their goalie is up in that customary attacking shape, David Clifford and Chrissy McKaigue are once again the only two players in the Hill 16 half.

Clifford repeats the dose when they counter at pace and suddenly, McKaigue shows the first signs of frustration. He dances on the grass and throws his arms out wide

Having taken McKaigue right across Joe McQuillan’s path, you’d wonder is he that smart to have planned it, Clifford wins his first free of the day moments later. The big screen zones in on Chrissy and you can’t help but notice that he is blowing hard. Who wouldn’t be?

Same thing again, Clifford is moving, McKaigue is marking, it seems a harsh call when Joe McQuillan whips out a yellow card, 26 minutes are gone, and flashes it in the Derry man’s face. He is bulling and it’s easy to see why.

Clifford is Kerry’s captain by name and nature.

Jason Foley gets a telling off for not making the run that he should have made just before half-time. For the past half an hour, Kerry’s number 14 has been telling his team-mates to pass the ball here, stay running with the ball there.

The second half is alive and not long after Paudie Clifford has undercooked a pass into his brother, Diarmuid O’Connor kicks one ten yards over his head. David doesn’t even give the second one the respect of turning to see where it went, he’s the cross one now.

He’s telling them in no uncertain terms that they need to lift it.

Clifford forces it and kicks a wide off the right, just a minute before he looks at Joe McQuillan. McQuillan is having none of it, not this time, and when the referee turns his back, McKaigue gives Clifford the hardest push he’s given him all day.

Is the tide turning? It certainly looked like it before Clifford turned it right back. Chrissy couldn’t have done anymore – nobody could have, as Ciaran Meenagh explained afterwards.

“I thought pound-for pound, Chrissy gave some account of himself today,” said the Derry manager. I thought it was an incredible battle. It wasn’t like we dropped three or four players to double or triple mark him.

“We couldn’t do both things today – try and win the game and try to stop them hammering us. We played with ambition and courage. We couldn’t have led by three at half-time or by two after 63 minutes unless we put our trust in Chrissy.”

But Clifford’s brilliance is in his deception.

You will often see him, if nothing’s on, walking out the field with his hands on his hips. He gives off the impression that he’s tired, and sometimes he is, but then when the moment comes, just when the moment comes, he goes with such purpose and such speed that you can’t stop him.

Then seconds later he’s winning balls in his own full back line.

“He was just doing things that I’d never seen him doing before,” said Jack O’Connor afterwards.

“Winning ball inside in his own square and stuff like that. It was almost like he said, ‘Whatever happens, we are not going to be beaten today.’”

Clifford turns his marker inside out down the right hand side, with Kerry one point down, showing leadership and skill and just an insatiable will to win the free that he scores to level the game up.

Then we see the most David Clifford point ever.

He gives the ball away, gets extremely lucky to win it back but where most players would have passed to Tony Brosnan, who is in space ahead of him, Clifford backs himself. He oozes confidence on his way to kicking the point that puts Kerry two up. This game seems over.

Moments later, he almost sets Tom O’Sullivan up with a pass to rival his by now famous one against Tyrone. Odhran Lynch cuts it out, but the job has been done.

Himself and Chrissy are on their hunkers after that one. The physio comes in. They’re both absolutely spent. And then it all ends with a hand-shake…

​Kerry:

S Ryan (0-1); G O’Sullivan, J Foley, T O’Sullivan; P Murphy, T Morley, G White (1-0); D O’Connor (0-1), J Barry; D Moynihan, S O’Shea (0-4, 0-1f), A Spillane; P Clifford (0-1), D Clifford (0-9, 0-1m, 0-3f), P Geaney.

Subs: Stephen O’Brien (0-1) for Spillane (51) Brian Ó Beaglaoich for Paul Murphy (55), Tony Brosnan for Paul Geaney (55) Micheál Burns for Dara Moynihan (59) Ruairi Murphy for Paudie Clifford (71)

Derry:

O Lynch (0-1); C McKaigue, E McEvoy, C McCluskey; C Doherty (0-1), G McKinless (1-0), P McGrogan (0-1); C Glass, B Rogers (0-2); N Toner, Paul Cassidy (0-2), E Doherty; C McFaul (0-2), S McGuigan (0-6, 0-3f), N Loughlin.

Subs: Padraig Cassidy for Padraig McGrogan (8, inj) Benny Heron for Padraig Cassidy (50) Lachlann Murray for Niall Toner (59)