Wednesday 22 November 2017

Clarke keen to lead Cavan by example

Clarke: ‘We need to grit our teeth’ Photo: Sportsfile
Clarke: ‘We need to grit our teeth’ Photo: Sportsfile

Declan Bogue

Sitting in his car on the M3, snaking along between the traffic lights on his way from Dublin to Cavan, Killian Clarke's half-daydream was disturbed by the phone ringing. His Cavan manager Mattie McGleenan flashed up on the screen.

Almost as soon as the conversation began, he asked straight out: "Do you want to be the captain of Cavan?"

"I was trying to be cool saying 'Thanks Mattie...' and just the usual stuff and hung up the phone," the 23-year-old recalls. "I let this big roar out of me in the middle of the traffic and everyone was looking around wondering 'who is this lunatic here?' with the headphones on him.

"I said 'Right, the first man I had to ring was my father', who is a big football man. And when I told him, he nearly started crying down the phone."

Sean Clarke is one of those Cavan diehards who could close their eyes and dream they were in The Polo Grounds, 1947.

As well as playing for Shercock and handing down the love of the club to his sons, he coached them at underage. His own father, Sean Snr, was the type of Cavan fan who had to be early into any ground. So early, they would often be knocking on the gates looking in to watch the day unfold in front of them.

So with all that in the background, little wonder he got emotional at the thought that his son - his lean, strapping son as he is - would be leading Cavan's senior football team out as captain.

"I never heard my father cry before so that just shows the magnitude of what it means to him as well as what it meant to me," the player reflects.

It was always likely that Clarke was going to make it in some discipline.

At underage, he played soccer for St Patrick's Athletic, having impressed with local side Manor Farm in Shercock. But to play for Cavan minors was the ultimate at that age. He attended a trial one year at 16, and didn't quite make it.

He approached the manager for some feedback. Playing at corner-back in the trial, he was told he wasn't sharp enough off the mark. So he went and joined an athletics club and found that he had a talent for long-distance running.

"So I went back to the athletics training and done sprinting, trained with one of the boys in the club who is an All-Ireland sprinter. He is a few years older than me, Craig Lynch, and let me train with him," he recalls.

"I was in the Forrest Gump club with the long hair and all that."

The Breffni Blues had an odd League. Much to be pleased about but still relegated. They won in Castlebar against Mayo and drew at home to Kerry a week after. Just when they appeared to have the hard work done, they fell to Roscommon.

When they met tomorrow's opponents Monaghan, they dug in for an absolute dog of a derby game and denied the Farney men scores for the first and last 20 minutes. They got out of Castleblayney with a point on the gruesome scoreline of 0-7 each.

A midfielder in the main, Clarke has been named at full-back for the visit of Monaghan, where he will be detailed with tracking Conor McManus.

It was Peter Reilly with the U-21s who first identified his strengths as a full-back. That won't bother him. Nor will the perception that Monaghan belong alongside Donegal and Tyrone in Ulster's 'Big Three'.

Deserve

"We are getting what we deserve. We are after being relegated from Division 1; Monaghan finished third in Division 1 and they could easily have made the final," he says bluntly.

"In the last few years we probably haven't stepped up on the big day when we needed to grit the teeth and win. We are getting what we deserve - you are not given anything in Gaelic football, you have to earn it."

At home in front of a rabid crowd, Cavan, and Clarke, feel they are ready to go out there and grab what they can with their bare hands.

This might get ugly.

Irish Independent

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