How David Clifford operates at the limits of human performance – by Ciaran Deely

*the contents included in this blog post contributed to an article that first was published in the Irish Independent on Sunday 30th July 2023

1). Describe in your professional opinion what you see in this pic and what do you like about it?

When I look at this picture of David Clifford kicking the ball I see a player operating at the absolute limits of human performance and his own physical capabilities. When we talk about greatness, we often analyse and comment upon the innate talent and skills of the player, or their decision-making. Perhaps we go further and speak about their speed or power. But we rarely look deeper into some critical physical capacities and capabilities such as mobility, dynamic stability, and strength in end range of motion of movements. And these often lend themselves to a player being injured less often than others. And from my day job working in professional soccer and completing a PhD in sport science and recovery, I know that maintaining a great player injury-free and keeping your best players on the pitch, gives you a much better chance of success. And this picture shows sone of Clifford’s less herald, but as important, capabilities.

2).How much of this pic is likely to be DNA?

We have seen these types of pictures before, in both men’s and women’s soccer, AFL, and of course, the Olympic sports. These are obviously all the elite of the elite sports people, operating across the world. I would certainly put David Clifford in that category. Not only do I think he will go on to be the greatest Gaelic footballer we have seen, I am sure he could have successfully achieved in whatever sport he wanted to play, and learn his trade in. Many of the most skilful and talented players are often the most physically impressive also. And the picture above goes to prove that again; call it his DNA, good genes- which we know he has as his brother is a top level player also; or just ‘born with it’…there is a certain amount that is not trainable. The nature-nurture debate is non-binary…it’s both!

3). How much is likely to be trained/acquired?

On the nurture side, it is clear there is some of Clifford’s kicking ability and extreme mobility that has been trained and acquired over many years. What we are seeing now- especially in the big, successful counties- are players coming into senior set ups, with years of S&C programmes under the belt. They have high ‘training years’ completed. This trend is only set to accelerate with the relatively recent influx of S&C experts, some with PhD’s completed, into some of the already high performance programmes employed throughout the counties. Strength & Conditioning is such a limiting term used, reslly they should be called Performance Scientists, and/or Athletic Development Coaches. As their responsibilities are all encompassing when it comes to these players. So Clifford will have benefited from years of mobility work, foam rolling, resistance work, and perhaps even yoga or Pilates sessions to increase his physical ability to operate at highest level of skill performance- like we see above.

4). Is Clifford a physical freak to be able to do this at 6ft3?

Our natural, inherent bias continually says the smallest athletes can’t dominate a game; and the biggest athletes don’t have the mobility and skills that a more ‘normal’, typically sized player can have. Yet, we recently saw the diminutive Messi completely dominant a World Cup and take his crown of the greatest soccer player ever; and a physical giant, LeBron James, continually push the boundaries of what is possible in basketball. The human body will never cease to amaze in its ability to adapt and surprise. It’s simply the continuation of that.

5). Any other thoughts on Clifford and his extraordinary gifts?

What I particularly like about the above, is how if you a analyse his kicking technique, you will see for closer in shots he tends to get his head and chest in over the ball. To ensure optimal accuracy. Whereas here he completely opens up his body, where she is aiming for the greatest distance and height from the shot. So he is adapting his technique, with the help of his excellent mobility and dynamic stability, in response to the challenge posed of him in a given situation. Look even how his right toe is barely touching the ground, his body is completely upright, even his head titled back, and his left foot is a good 6 inches above his hairline. This is not the typical kicking technique! The closest I saw to this was playing alongside the great Matty Forde, where technique trumped brute strength. But this is on another level again. A joy to behold, and a fascinating player to closely analyse.

Ciaran Deely (MSc, MA, PhD candidate)

*see snippets of published article below by Michael Verney


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