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Collingwood play down chances of Clarke returning

AFL side Collingwood's recruitment manager, Derek Hine, has played down speculation that their former player, Down's Martin Clarke, could one day return down under.

"I know Martin really well and of course we'd love him to come back at some point in the future but at no stage has he indicated to the club that he would like to do that," said Hine, who visited Clarke on a recent trip to Ireland.

"In all the communication and all the conversations we've had, both in Ireland and since I got back, he's never indicated that. And I wouldn't ask him. I just wouldn't put him in that position," Hine told the Evening Herald.

Clarke has declared that, although his focus is solely on Down's involvement in the championship for now, he would never rule out a return to Australia.

However, Hine explained that the young Mourne man had expressed his delight at being at home playing for his native county and was enjoying his Gaelic football coaching role with local schools.

"I went to watch him play a game when I was over there and he played really well, which is an indication of how happy he is and how comfortable he is in what he's doing."

According to AFL rules, if Clarke was to decide on a return to AFL next season, he wouldn't necessarily end up back with the Pies (Collingwood). Because he is no longer on the club's list, he would have to go into the annual player draft meaning the Down man's fate would be out of his and Collingwood's hands.

However, if Clarke was to remain in Ireland for three years before making a possible return, he would be eligible to re-sign with the club without having to go through the draft process.

Hine stressed that the best wishes of Collingwood are with Clarke as he prepares to play in his first SFC game for Down against Donegal this Sunday.

The An Riocht clubman played 46 Premiership games for Collingwood before returning home last September to resume his Gaelic football career.

"We really hope that it goes well for him," Hine said. "Martin stayed with me and my family for three years when he was out here and I talk to him regularly, as friends do."

Hine said Pies' players were also taking a keen interest in Clarke's Gaelic football endeavours.

"Martin was really close to a few of the boys here and they know that I talk to him regularly so they always ask how he's going over there and really want to see him do well," he said.