Great Valley’s Aidan Claffey is a real ‘keeper’ on and off the pitch



Athlete- Thierry Henry

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MALVERN – Aidan Claffey is a throwback to a different generation of student/athlete, when accountability and dedication to team goals exceeded personal glory.

Sure, the Great Valley senior goalkeeper enjoyed his share of individual fame in helping the Patriots reach the state Final Four in boys’ soccer over the past two seasons, earning District 1-AAA and state silver medals in 2014 on the heels of a district championship in 2013.

But rather than measure him by his eight shutouts in 2014 or the highlight-reel caliber saves he’s delivered with machine-like efficiency since becoming the starting varsity keeper as a junior, it is Claffey’s body of work on and off the pitch that raises so many eyebrows.

The guy is a ‘keeper’ in every sense of the word.

Claffey_MoffettAidan has exemplified all of the core principles that we emphasize in our program,” said Great Valley head coach Dave Moffett. “He has shown tremendous commitment to the team throughout his entire career.”

Claffey has shown that same commitment in the classroom and community as an Eagle Scout and member of the National Honor Society student. The son of Doug and Cindy Claffey of Malvern, Aidan is also a National Merit Scholarship Commended Student who serves as the Great Valley Volleyball Club President and participates in the Habitat for Humanity Club.

As a person I always feel responsible for things,” said Claffey. “It is hard not to. As a goalie, I am the last man back. Even if a goal is scored against me that wasn’t my fault, I still have to take some of the responsibility because it passed me somehow.

However, that is not a bad thing. Maybe playing as a goalie has helped me with responsibility in other aspects of my life, or maybe it’s the other way around. I’m not quite sure. I just had to learn to take that pressure and use it to keep me focused.”

This past fall, Claffey and the Patriots were clearly focused during another riveting run in the District One and PIAA playoffs. Seeded 15th in the D1 bracket, Great Valley reached the district final with wins over Owen J. Roberts (3-1), No. 2 Neshaminy (3-2 OT), Ches-Mont rival West Chester Rustin (1-0) and No. 3 Wissahickon (1-0) before falling to fourth-seeded Cental Bucks East 1-0 in the championship showdown.

Claffey’s best performance during districts may have been his 11-save effort in the blanking of Wissahickon.

My goalkeeper coach, Dave Papalia, has always been my mentor,” said Claffey. “He has always told me to be aggressive, and that an aggressive keeper will always give up fewer goals. I have practiced that and it showed throughout the playoffs.

I know I always have to stay focused. In some games, we could be dominating possession, but I knew that if the other team got a lucky break, I had to be ready and couldn’t lose concentration.”

Claffey had a stellar supporting cast that kept him on point, including starting center back Jameson Sarr (junior) and senior outside backs Mark Williams and Nate Shackleton. But it was Aidan that served as maestro of the defense.

Aidan has worked harder than any other keeper we’ve had here in the last 18 years,” said Papalia, the Great Valley volunteer assistant and goalkeeper coach. “He is more athletic than some may think. He dominates the air, winning high balls and holding everything.

Watching him in game warm-ups, he makes saves that you think are sure goals. He never gives up. He uses his long frame to extend and make that extremely difficult save, and is extremely reliable on the basic save. He is surprisingly quick and has no fear.”

That ‘no fear’ mantra continued in the state tournament with matching 2-1 wins over Southern Lehigh (District 11, 1 seed), Reading (3-1) and Mechanisburg (3-3) before a season-ending 2-1 loss to Peters Township (7-1) for the PIAA title in Hershey. Great Valley finished 19-6-2 as the state runner-up.

Even though it just happened, my best sports memory has to be playing in the state final this year at Hershey Stadium,” said Claffey. “Our success in recent years is due in large part to Coach Moffett. Not only is he an excellent coach, but he is an excellent role model as well. He makes his players want to play for him, which can be a problem for some coaches. One of the things that separate him from others is his willingness to not only teach us about soccer, but to coach us on life.”

Suffice it to say that Claffey has been a model pupil.

Aidan, who began playing soccer at the age of 6 while living in Ireland with his family, has grown up with the sport.

Soccer was pretty much the only sport that Irish kids played,” said Claffey. “My parents and I decided that I should give it a shot. When I moved back to Malvern in second grade, I picked up right where I left off at GCVSA (Greater Chester Valley Sports Association).”

The position of goalie seemed to be a natural fit for Claffey, who earned second team Ches-Mont League American Conference honors in 2014.

Aidan is an extremely analytical keeper, a very bright young man,” said Papalia. “Goalkeeping is very much about understanding angles and positioning and I believe that Aidan has translated those attributes into his game.

Aidan has been part of many travel teams, playing and watching soccer non-stop at a very high level. That experience has proven to be invaluable. He has gained the respect of his teammates through his intense work ethic, which has led to him to being a fantastic leader. That work ethic has propelled him into being an elite keeper in the area.”

Claffey_scoutsThat unparalleled work ethic carries over into all of Aidan’s endeavors, including his Eagle project to rebuild and restore the benches and flower planters for Safe Harbor, a homeless shelter in West Chester this past summer.

The common thread in Claffey’s life is a willingness to tackle any task, accept responsibility and take care of business – on and off the soccer pitch.

Aidan’s strength is his ability to put mistakes behind him and learn from those mistakes,” said Papalia. “His senior year he battled through some injuries but no one would ever know if you watched his efforts in practice.

He was the only keeper we had playing with the varsity so he rarely had down time. What he understands most is that you win and lose as a team, score and get scored on as a team.”

Aidan, who spent three weeks at Princeton studying game theory in the summer of his sophomore year, clearly ‘gets it.’

I want to continue playing soccer,” said Aidan, who plans to major in the field of Mathematics at an underdetermined college. “Not at the (varsity) level, but definitely in a club program.”

It is a sure thing that Claffey will raise the bar for whatever club team is lucky enough to have him on its roster.

Aidan is extremely coachable and willing to listen to and incorporate new ideas into his play,” said Moffett. “He is an excellent teammate and friend that gives of himself to create a very positive team chemistry. Aidan is a young man of strong character who is respectful of everyone he encounters, is honest and trustworthy, and who is known for his integrity. 

As a player he is extremely competitive and demands much of himself.  Aidan always maintains his composure and concentration even when faced with the most difficult and trying times on the field. 

In addition to exhibiting our core principles he is also an outstanding student who has many interests outside of the classroom and soccer field.  He is a true student – athlete.  I feel very fortunate to have had him as part of the program for the last four years.”

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