This is the third entry in the new series dedicated to the individuals involved in Chelsea lifting the 2009-10 FA Youth Cup trophy.
EPISODE 3: Conor Clifford
Conor Clifford captained the team that won the FA Youth Cup in 2010. He also scored the winning goal in Chelsea’s comeback win, 3-2 on aggregate, over Aston Villa in the final. Chelsea had trailed both legs 1-0 at half-time.
Clifford spent six years with Chelsea, after joining the Academy at the age of 15 back in 2007 from the Republic of Ireland. However, despite his success at the youth levels, he never got the chance to make a senior appearance — not once was he even named to the bench. Like many players who have been a part of the Chelsea academy, a pathway to the first-team never quite opened for him.
“At Chelsea, there’s no room for you when you get past reserve stage. There’s just so many players, so the next step if you’re not in or around the first team, is to go out on loan. There were forty-something players out. You go out, you get called back and then you get shipped out again.”
-Conor Clifford; January 2017
Clifford of course spent plenty of time in the infamous Loan Army, but it was a miserable experience to the tune of just 29 appearances in three seasons for five different teams (Plymouth, Notts County, Yeovil, Portsmouth, and Crawley). Released by Chelsea in January 2013, he would bounce around the lower leagues growing ever more disillusioned before returning home and signing on with Dundalk in 2017.
His happy homecoming would be cut short however, after getting banned for six months by the English FA for betting offenses, which was then expanded to a worldwide ban from football by FIFA, effectively ending Clifford’s time at Dundalk. He would eventually wind up at St Patrick’s Athletic a year later, where he found himself matched up against his old club in a preseason friendly this past summer.
He ended up not featuring in the friendly, as St Pat’s were in the midst of Europa League qualification, which they ended up losing out on a few days later.
Clifford’s career has definitely taken the (very bumpy) road less traveled, but his trials and tribulations and various other misfortunes have not curtailed his ambitions. The 28-year-old joined Derry City in the winter transfer window ahead of the 2020 League of Ireland season, aiming to earn more Europa League exposure — though seeing his season cut short after just a couple appearances in the first few matchdays by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“A good run in Europe would be great for the fans but my main aim is to get my head down and I still have some good years left in me, I know that. I’m hungry more than ever to prove people wrong.
I can’t wait to get started. I feel, since I’ve come home, I’ve done well but I haven’t hit the heights that I know I can do. I really feel it’s my time now.”
- Conor Clifford, source: Derry Journal
The League of Ireland will be hoping to complete the 2020 season with a reduced number of fixtures once the pandemic subsides.
Here’s to hoping Clifford can find some stability in his career at long last at that point!