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Harps ace still going strong at 48

Retirement not on the radar yet for Skerries stalwart Collie

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Colm Clinton

Colm Clinton

Collie Clinton in action for Skerries Harps against St Vincents in 2006.

Collie Clinton in action for Skerries Harps against St Vincents in 2006.

Skerries Harps celebrate winning the Intermediate Championship in 2011, Collie Clinton’s final year with the first team. Picture: Fintan Clarke

Skerries Harps celebrate winning the Intermediate Championship in 2011, Collie Clinton’s final year with the first team. Picture: Fintan Clarke

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Colm Clinton

fingalindependent

They have a saying in GAA circles. The club is where you start and where you finish your career. And it will be a sad day for Skerries Harps stalwart Collie Clinton when he eventually hangs up his boots.

Having turned 48 last October, Clinton (right) still lines out for his club and is raring to go for the new season.

Starting off as a Juvenile player with Harps in the 1980s, Clinton has carried on a tradition left behind by his father John, who is now president of the club.

John anchored the Skerries Harps defence back in the '50s when, along with brothers Larry and Tom they helped Harps to successive championship titles.

John, a very tidy centre back, would play a pivotal part for Skerries as they captured the Intermediate Championship in 1955 just 12 months after winning the Junior crown.

Skerries would experience some lean times over the next couple of decades, but under the guidance of John Clinton, Pat Rice and Joe Coleman a new generation would eventually emerge and in 1989 the three wise men guided Harps to Minor A success.

Paul Wilde made it onto the Dublin minor panel and along with Collie they were both promoted to the senior squad that same year.

Clinton slotted in at wing back, making his senior league debut that year against St Oliver Plunketts where he was detailed to mark current Dublin selector and former county forward Mick Galvin.

It was certainly a baptism of fire for Clinton, but he soon became popular in the club for his total commitment to the tackle.

He certainly came up against some big guys, most notably Ciaran Barr, the renowned Antrim hurler who had transferred to St Vincents in the 1990s. The Skerries man came off second best in a challenge with Barr on one occasion, but determination was Clinton's middle name and going into tackles that some might have thought twice about, he soon became a central part of the Skerries team that was now mixing with the big boys.

Leading up to that point Clinton had cut his teeth in the Fingal League where trips to Garristown and Rolestown certainly made their mark on him.

'There would be hundreds at these games and we were considered as town folk even though I was the son of a farmer myself,' he recalled.

'They were great games to play in and in 1992 we won Fingal and beat Raheny in the Dublin Inter League at a time when my father was managing the team.'

Despite those successes the championship proved a tougher nut to crack and the aforementioned Vincents team, which included the legendary Brian Mullins, edged out Harps by a point in a replay before going on to win well in the final against St Brigids.

Throughout the '90s Harps remained in Division 2, going close on a few occasions to securing promotion, and by then they were playing in the Senior Championship, but Clinton recalls that they certainly didn't get the luck of the draw.

'The Senior Championship was then a knockout and we continuously drew Erin's Isle, St Sylvester's and St Brigids over the years,' he remembers.

'These teams were in their pomp, between reaching All-Ireland Club finals and winning Dublin. Certainly we had our chances at times to beat both Erin's Isle and St Brigids, but we fell short.'

As the millennium came to a close, Skerries Harps' fortunes began to take a downward turn, according to Clinton.

'We had an ageing squad and in 2000 we got relegated down to Intermediate - at this stage Fingal had amalgamated with Dublin. We had to rebuild the team and again during this period we reached numerous championship semi-finals but lost out. We lost a few league play-off semi-finals and a final, but eventually in 2008 we won the Play-off final against Peregrines to go up to Senior.'

Clinton was certainly feeling more hopeful this time around.

'We had some great players on that team,' he pointed out. 'We had Bryan and Graham Cullen, whose father I played with when I made my senior debut. And then you had Collie Daly and Donnacha Reilly too.

'Now before we had the players, but for whatever reason we just couldn't make the championship breakthrough, but eventually we won the 2011 Inter Championship after years of trying - the last time we had won it my father was playing in 1955.'

That 2011 season would be Clinton's last year playing with the first team, and while it was a tough decision to step away he believed it was the right time for it.

'I had played four decades senior for the club, but I still had a love for the game and I decided to manage the second team. We won various leagues and were beaten in a championship final by Na Fianna and to this present day I'm still playing away with the third team.'

With all that experience behind him, Clinton is certainly well placed to comment on the modern game.

'Football has changed a lot over the years,' he said. 'A lot more commitment is needed and certainly it is hard to see anyone starting off now completing five decades of adult football.

'When I started off, football was certainly a lot tougher than it is today. After matches there used to be a lot more mingling with players - better friendships were made.

'Certainly Fingal derbies had a bit more bite in them and the crowds were a lot bigger.

'Over the years you had to learn to adapt to rules changes and the game has quickened up a lot - it's hard to keep up with the young lads.'

Nonetheless, overseeing the fortunes of Skerries' up and coming stars has given Clinton immense pride.

'This year the seniors reached the quarter-finals of the championship. We have had some fantastic young players over the years and it was great to see so many minors from the last few years finishing the match against Judes in Parnell Park and more than holding their own.

'From a personal point of view it was very satisfying that the teams myself, Michael Fanning, Brian Tonge and Pat Delaney had looked after from a young age had borne fruit on the senior stage.

'And I also got to play on the pitch with some of the younger players that I helped to bring through and I could certainly feel my age.'

Off the field Clinton has also seen plenty of changes at his club.

'It has been great to see the club grow from when I first started out. We now have a fantastic clubhouse and we are biggest club in the town. Week in, week out a lot of hard work is done by the club (and it's no different to any other GAA club). We could always do with more pitches.'

Of course 2020 was a particularly challenging one for everyone involved, but it was not going to stop Clinton from what he loves doing the most.

'This year it was great to get any matches in and it also saw me playing in my fifth decade of adult football.

'As long as football is enjoyable and the support of the club is there, there's no reasons why I can't go on for a few more years. I reckon I am owed a few more given that I have had my fair share of injuries!!'


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