MARTIN CLARKE has officially begun his much anticipated return to AFL, starting training with Collingwood just two days after his arrival in Melbourne.
Despite being out of the game for two years playing Gaelic football with Down, Collingwood's national recruitment manager Derek Hine has said he expects Clarke to make his 2012 season debut in round one.
"I'd be very disappointed if he didn't play in round one," Hine said. "I think the challenge for Martin is great but he's a very determined man.
"I think that's been a big positive since Martin's gone back.
"He's really thought about what he needs to do to be a professional footballer and he's recognised what he needs to do to sustain a career in the AFL.
"He's obviously missed it and since we've listed him, I know from every discussion I've had with him that his every waking moment has been about AFL football."
As for the club's other Irish stock -- namely Kildare's Paul Cribbin and new signing and Clarke's fellow Down man Caolan Mooney, Hine said he believed it's possible that all three could take to the field together.
This season, Setanta Ó hAilpín and Zach Tuohy became the first Irish duo to play together since revered AFL pair Sean Wight and Jim Stynes at Melbourne, so a Pies trio would be a first. Hine believes Mooney could be the best Irish import yet.
"It's not beyond the realms of possibility that all three could play together in the one team," he said.
"Caolan is an amazing talent. I think he's got the potential to be one of the best players to come out of Ireland. What he can bring to the table in terms of his speed and power is something I haven't seen in Australia or Ireland for that matter."