Tuesday 19 September 2017

Clarke retirement leaves Down wondering what might have been

Clarke: “I know in my heart, the way I was feeling after a lot of football games for club and Queen’s, that it’s not safe and I’m not doing myself justice.” Picture credit: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Clarke: “I know in my heart, the way I was feeling after a lot of football games for club and Queen’s, that it’s not safe and I’m not doing myself justice.” Picture credit: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

Michael Verney

Given the footprint he left on the inter-county football scene, it's hard to fathom that Marty Clarke spent just two years with the Down footballers, but his genius means he is regularly mentioned in the same breath as many Mourne greats.

After he starred on an All-Ireland minor-winning side in 2005, Down fans were imagining what the An Riocht attacker could do at senior level, but they were forced to wait as he headed Down Under to try his hand at Australian Rules.

As with Gaelic football, Clarke was a natural and excelled at Collingwood as a half-back before the itch to return home and chase Sam Maguire glory became too great to ignore.

He had an immediate effect in his first season in red and black.

It is only seven years since he led a revolution in Down football as they scorched all the way to the All-Ireland final through the back door but it feels like a lifetime ago as they fall further away from Sam Maguire each season.

Their journey through the qualifiers in 2011 wouldn't have the same success as the previous year, and as with the All-Ireland decider 12 months before, Cork proved their kryptonite as Clarke (pictured) picked up a second yellow card before the hour mark in what would be his last senior appearance.

The 2010 All-Star returned to Australia but failed to pick up from where he had left off with Collingwood and after being diagnosed with Addison's disease he returned to Ireland vowing to fight for a Down place in 2015.

It never materialised and after most recently playing with Queen's in the Sigerson Cup, the 29-year-old was forced to prematurely call time on his career due to the "stress" that the condition, which causes extreme fatigue and weight loss and has no known cure, puts his body under.

"I know in my heart, the way I was feeling after a lot of football games for club and Queen's, that it's not safe and I'm not doing myself justice," he told the Irish News.

Former Down goalkeeper Mickey McVeigh admitted to once skipping work in order to watch Clarke play in a schools match and given his outstanding playmaking ability, it would be natural for the Mourne faithful to think that they have been robbed of an unfulfilled talent, especially given the barren spell they are enduring.

His old team-mate, and current star, Kevin McKernan neatly summed up Clarke's ability.

"The glimpses we got of him in 2010 probably left everybody with that question of, what if we had got the full lifespan of Marty Clarke in terms of his footballing career? You would have seen things he was doing at training that you were just flabbergasted by," McKernan said.

"He was a step ahead of everybody and you don't get too many players like that; he'd put the ball on your plate. . . kicking into space and kicking over your shoulder, he saw things no-one else could. It was a privilege to be part of."

Indo Sport

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport