Fire must be met with fire if we want to pre­vent the poach­ing of gifted tal­ents like Kerry’s David Clif­ford

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - THE TITLE -


THE sound that spooked Kerry last Sun­day was not the gut­tural Mayo heck­les from the stands as Bryan Shee­han stood up to that kick, but the crude mat­ing call that car­ried in the air from the other side of the world a cou­ple of hours pre­vi­ously.

You may not have heard it even if you caught the mi­nor live show where gasps of ‘oohs and aahs’ that have been the con­stant sound­track to per­haps the most ex­tra­or­di­nary young tal­ent to have laced a foot­ball boot, filled the air once again.

David Clif­ford had fired over four points in­side 20 min­utes and yet, at the same time, al­most fooled us into think­ing he was on the game’s mar­gins, such is the way he car­ries that 6ft 2in frame of lop­ing in­tent.

Fel­low sports hack Mikey Stafford nailed it de­li­ciously when he tweeted: ‘David Clif­ford is one of those won­der­fully-ta­lented sports they men who al­ways looked wrecked, from minute one.

‘A Gaelic Damien Duff or Rafa Nadal,’ he added.

By the time he was done with Ca­van he had taken them for 1-10, bring­ing his sea­son to­tal af­ter five games to 4-37 — that’s an av­er­age of 10 points a game.

That is why in the Deep South, where they tend to be as lib­eral with praise as a Don­ald Trump press con­fer­ence is with good sense, they are sim­ply los­ing the run of their tongues.

He is a Colm Cooper/Mau­rice Fitzger­ald/Kieran Don­aghy all rolled into one.

Kerry is no longer both­er­ing with such a mun­dane con­cept as a pro­duc­tion line.

In­stead, that much-hyped, re­cently un­veiled cen­tre of ex­cel­lence is a mere shopfront to a dev­il­ish back-room lab­o­ra­tory where are in the process of ge­net­i­cally engi­neer­ing a master foot­balling race now that there is a break in the Ó Sé lin­eage.

Per­haps that is also why some Kerry ears are so finely wired these days that they can pick up sounds not au­di­ble to other hu­man re­cep­tors.

As far as some are con­cerned, Clif­ford might as well have been on a Mel­bourne cat­walk last Sun­day, where he was be­ing wolf-whis­tled by a dozen pro­fes­sional fran­chises all with con­tracts itch­ing to be inked. And they could be right. For all the protests, in­clud­ing from AFL’s chief in­ter­na­tional tal­ent scout Tadhg Ken­nelly that the Fossa teenager is go­ing nowhere, so ir­re­sistible is his prom­ise that it is easy to con­ceive that a pro­fes­sional fran­chise will seek to make an of­fer that would prove too good to refuse.

That is their right as it is his to ac­cept.

But what has im­pressed this week is how Kerry have de­cided to come out fight­ing rather than just belly­ache about the mon­eyed classes com­ing over here tak­ing the best of us.

Of course, play­ers can leave for rea­sons other than the money. The prospect of liv­ing the pro­fes­sional life is prob­a­bly more of a pull than the prospect of a few Aus­tralian dol­lars more.

That be­ing the case, they are well within their rights to eke out that ex­pe­ri­ence while nourishing the prospect of mak­ing a ca­reer out of it as well.

But what the GAA needs to do now is to make its case by not just ap­peal­ing to the heart but to the wal­let, too.

An en­hanced in­ter­na­tional AFL rookie con­tract — the kind that Ir­ish play­ers typ­i­cally re­ceive — is ap­prox­i­mately €50,000 a year.

And, in a sport with a puni­tive fail­ure rate, those that make it as es­tab­lished pro­fes­sion­als earn on av­er­age salary of about €135,000 a year.

It’s not peanuts, but in a short sport­ing ca­reer with a high risk of in­jury, it is closer to win­ning the club lotto than the big-bucks Euromil­lions.

While the GAA has no busi­ness in in­ter­fer­ing with those who want to take their cho­sen ca­reer path, it doesn’t mean that it should stand idly by with its hands dug deep into empty pock­ets ei­ther.

That is why we liked the cut of Kerry chair­man Tim Mur­phy’s jibe this week when he re­vealed his county’s ac­tion plan.

It is one that is aimed at the hearts, minds and wal­lets of their best young play­ers to en­sure that there is an in­cen­tive to stay at home.

‘We are also putting time into an­other com­mer­cial group that would be able to ad­vise our fu­ture stars how they can max­imise their

pro­file as GAA play­ers here,’ said Mur­phy.

We sus­pect that ‘max­imis­ing their pro­file’ ex­tends be­yond get­ting their pic­ture in the Ker­ry­man on a weekly ba­sis, but as to what shape those in­cen­tives will take re­mains to be seen — the no­tion of su­per col­lege bur­saries for elite play­ers is one that has been raised at times in the past.

In an as­so­ci­a­tion which has to tip­toe around the “kerch­ing!” is­sue for ob­vi­ous, if hyp­o­crit­i­cal, rea­sons — slush funds are in place to en­sure that there is a vi­brant off-the-field in­dus­try to keep man­age­ment teams at club and county level gain­fully em­ployed — there is a grow­ing re­al­i­sa­tion that fire must be met with fire to keep the best at home.

That can be dissed as elitism by the GAA’s Tal­iban, but for those whose ears are pressed to the ground it is one way of en­sur­ing that we at least place some value on the price­less.

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