McCartan fear over Clarke's potential AFL return
DOWN boss James McCartan fears that star forward Martin Clarke could return to Australia after Collingwood expressed an interest in bringing the An Riocht clubman back to the AFL.
Clarke returned to Ireland for personal reasons in 2009 after three years with the Melbourne club, but Collingwood recently claimed to have been in touch with the 22-year-old with a view to persuading him back Down Under.
"I didn't think it was my place to start quizzing Marty a week or 10 days before a league final," McCartan said.
"There's no doubt that the guy performed very well when he was out there and there's no reason to think that his ex-team wouldn't want him back in the same way that when he left, Down wanted him back.
"I would guess that there is certainly something to the rumours because he's a good enough player, so there could well be something in it. I just have to be happy with the here and now - that he's available for this weekend - and I'm assuming that he's available for the summer until he tells me otherwise.
"We're delighted to have him and we'll be doing everything in our power to try and make sure he isn't tempted back; unfortunately they can offer something that we can't."
Clarke currently works as a coaching officer with the Down County Board and has expressed an interest in training to be a teacher, with McCartan stressing Clarke's importance to his team ahead of Sunday's Division 2 final with Armagh in Croke Park.
"Marty is obviously a massive help to us. The big thing about getting Marty back is that it is like getting two players back from Australia because his brother John has been playing fantastic as well. They seem to work well in tandem.
"What I find with Marty is that people are trying to hit him and he is able to handle that. He is well used to being the centre of attention. He was telling me that out in Australia he regularly received verbal abuse about being the Irish wimp.
"I always warn him about certain players. Because he is back from Australia, he is going to be getting the verbals and is going to be the centre of attention. He says: 'Okay, I'm well used to that'. It is not a factor for him."
Promotion to the top flight has surprised McCartan, but Down have some injury concerns ahead of the game with the Orchard men.
Damien Rafferty is a doubt with a hamstring injury and Aidan Carr is definitely out. Ambrose Rodgers is unlikely to play, though Benny Coulter (ribs) and John Clarke (knee) are expected to shake off their knocks.
"Down were just promoted and they were two years in Division 3, so there was nothing to suggest that they'd be able to kick on again, so the first port of call was survival," he admitted.
"There's no doubt we hit the ground running (against Kildare in the league). We probably had a very similar team throughout the national league, ie we had the majority of our best players on the pitch from day one.
"We caught Kildare on the hop a wee bit, but I wouldn't particularly like to meet Geezer and his mates again later in the summer. We put up a good score that day and defended in the manner we wanted to and that set the tone for the league."
Meanwhile, Orchard boss O'Rourke was keen to play down the significance of facing his native county and his Burren club -mate McCartan.
"I am not too concerned about who I am playing against," said the 1991 Down All-Ireland-winning captain. "It's about how we perform. I spend much more time on our own performance than on how the opposition is going to play.
"I concentrate on the job I have to do and I'm fairly placid about the whole thing. It is only football. It is only sport. Probably some people make it out to be more than that, but it's not."