Monday 24 October 2016

Inspiring Clarke still guiding the Tribe

More than 30 years after his retirement Iggy aims to help Galway players in any way he can

Declan Rooney

Published 29/06/2015 | 02:30

Iggy Clarke has joined the fledgling association for past and present Galway hurlers, ‘Báireoiri na Gaillimhe’ ANDREW DOWNES/XPOSURE
Iggy Clarke has joined the fledgling association for past and present Galway hurlers, ‘Báireoiri na Gaillimhe’ ANDREW DOWNES/XPOSURE
Clarke lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup after the 1980 All-Ireland final against Limerick
Galway manager Anthony Cunningham

Hurler. Priest. Counsellor. Husband. Father. Teacher. Iggy Clarke has worn plenty of hats over the years, but he'll always be remembered as the most classy of hurlers.

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Clarke lined out for the Galway seniors from 1972 to 1984, won three All-Stars along the way, lost two All-Ireland finals and finally helped Galway to win one in 1980.

An injury picked up in the semi-final meant Clarke missed out on Galway hurling's greatest day when they claimed Liam MacCarthy for the first time in 57 years.

But he still played his part.

A recently ordained priest, Fr Iggy celebrated mass with the team in the hotel before they left for Croke Park that morning. And after the thousands of Galway supporters chanted his name from the pitch, he found his way to Joe Connolly's side to lift the cup aloft.

The chance to combine two of his roles is what drives Clarke now though. A qualified psychotherapist and psychologist, he is also a member of Galway GAA's Health and Wellbeing committee.

He has helped clubs in the county that have been engulfed by trauma and grief, as they try to cope with the loss of a someone through tragic circumstances.

Certainly, his 17 years as a priest - he left the priesthood in the late 1990s - have helped Clarke in this role, but even without the collar, he is an inspirational person to speak to.

He recently joined the fledgling association for past and present Galway hurlers called 'Báireoiri na Gaillimhe' and he says he'd love to bring his talents as a counsellor to the table there too. Ideally a link between the Health and Wellbeing committees would work best, he says, but he feels it's vital for the GAA to be there for all its members.

"It's a lovely concept, the Báireoiri. The idea that I played, I was part of it and I'm not forgotten really appeals to me," said Clarke.

"I'm sure there is a lot of players out there that would say I only played junior or have them included would be fantastic. They made their contribution to sport in Galway. It has great potential that way.


"I'd love to see the Báireoiri involved in the Health and Wellbeing committees that have being formed in clubs. You could have a tremendous link there between the health of players and the difficulties players go through and their families go through."

We talk at a time where 'sledging' has replaced 'the blanket defence' as the new buzz phrase in the GAA. It's always been there but a moniker has finally been pinned on the dark art.

Clarke is definitely concerned about the reported rise in such psychological warfare on the pitch and he believes that player and mentor education is the only way to stamp it out.

"Training of players and club officers could see a lot of that kind of mental abuse or emotional abuse cut out. A lot of that seems to go on.

"It's one thing when something happens or there is a tragic accident and then everybody is there and available. But you need to have a preventative side to it too. That would involve the education of players, tell them what to do when there is a crisis, but also what do you do to possibly prevent a crisis.

"It has a great potential, but like everything else it takes a lot of effort, work and commitment. It's very much worth the effort and to me it's a noble idea, but it has to move from being an idea to something practical that works.

"It's important that players can say: 'Oh, there's a structure there; there's an inclusive support there that I'm not on my own; I don't have to deal with everything on my own'," said Clarke.

The former Mullagh hurler, and Loughrea parish priest, married Mariel in 2000, and is now the father to three step-children and a grandfather since then.

"Imagine, I have two grand-kids at this stage, which is something that I never thought of or dreamed of," he said.

Alongside him on countless occasions was centre-back Sean Silke and he thinks Clarke "would have been the Brian O'Driscoll of the 70s" had he continued playing rugby. Instead he just excelled on the hurling pitch.

"Iggy is one of nature's gentlemen, but what a talent he was on the pitch," said Silke. "He'd catch a high ball in a crowd of players and when he'd land he was able to swivel, turn 360 and go full speed through the crowd. He was really talented, left and right: he had it all."

He is certainly passionate about his calling and the potential positive effects that improved education could have on the lives of players, but Galway hurling still brings a glint to his eye.

He is involved in training the camogie team at St Killian's VS in New Inn, but his counselling work means he cannot commit to training a team outside of school.

Clarke does like what he sees from Anthony Cunningham's side though and thinks there is no reason for them to fear the Cats in the Leinster final.

"When I saw them playing in the league against Waterford I was very disappointed and I said 'Oh my God'. I didn't see much potential. I was hoping that they would raise their game for the summer and I think in many ways they did.

"It's so easy to be critical, give out and complain, but there are a lot of nice things about the way they're playing.

"What I like about the present situation is there is no obvious team standing out as potential All-Ireland winners. Kilkenny are definitely not as strong as they were. Recent Galway teams are not a bit afraid of Kilkenny and they rise to the occasion.

"I suppose that's where I see the possibility of great hope and expectation. They're in a good position to take on Kilkenny, they'll have the matches behind them and be in good shape to take them on. But even if you knock them out at this stage you could see them down the line again.

"My belief is that if you're good enough and committed enough you can take on anyone. I don't care how good Kilkenny are, it's up to us to match them and be as good as them."

No reason to think you're second best, not in Iggy's eyes.

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