THE man who took Darren Clarke to Malahide outfit St Sylvester's has paid tribute to his departing star forward after the Louth man chose to return to his home club, St Mary's for the 2013 campaign.
The Inter-county star spent five seasons under Gabriel Bannigan at Sylvester's where he won a Division 1 League title, a Senior B Championship and two St Vincent De Paul Cups, and was crowned Senior Footballer of the Year in 2009.
Clarke's final season was marred somewhat by injury, but he was unquestionably the key player for Syls in their breakthrough win over Plunketts in last year's championship.
And Bannigan believes Clarke's impact on the club in his five-season stint cannot be overstated.
'I was very fond of Darren. I think he has been consistently one of the best forwards in both county and club football over the last few years.
'He was certainly our talisman and when he was out through injury we missed him. He gave us five years and when Darren came to Sylvesters we were coming out of Division 2.
'It was our first season coming up and we were fighting relegation, so Darren would have been the catalyst in terms of Sylvesters moving on from the bottom four or six to being in the top four for the last four or five years.
'Before he arrived, Sylvesters hadn't won anything in something like 25 years. Now we have won four or five competitions and are constantly competing for Division 1.'
While struggling with injury, Clarke made a huge impact for Sylvesters in their last sixteen encounter against Oliver Plunketts in the Dublin Senior Championship in October when having been introduced in the second half he helped Syls overturn a six point deficit against a side bolstered by the Brogan brothers.
And Bannigan believes that had Clarke been fully fit, Stlvester's might have progressed even further.
'We were very unfortunate last season in that Darren wasn't fit to start against Plunketts in the championship but he came on with 20 minutes to go and we came back and beat them.
'But unfortunately he tweaked his hamstring so we only got 15 minutes out of him against Kilmacud Crokes. So he has been very influential and that was reflected in the fact I appointed him team captain for the last two seasons.
'And when we started the player of the year awards in 2009 Darren won it in its inaugural season. He has always been a big game player because he has been around a while and he's doing it a while.'