Collingwood throw doubt over Clarke future
MARTIN Clarke may not necessarily return to Aussie Rules next year, despite travelling Down Under in recent weeks on a mid-season trip which immediately sparked speculation that he was set to rejoin AFL side Collingwood.
The Melbourne club have since played down the rumours, saying Clarke was just returning for a short visit to sort out some financial matters locally before the end of the Australian financial year.
The An Riocht star, who played such a key role in helping Down to the All-Ireland final last year where they eventually lost to Cork, has not revealed his long-term plans yet.
But it is now believed that his return to Aussie Rules football is far from a fait accompli, which would be good news for county football fans and for the Down County Board, for whom he works as a coach.
Clarke did spend a week in Australia in the wake of the Mournes' surprise Ulster quarter-final defeat to Armagh but he has since returned to county training and lined out for his club in a championship game last week.
County team-mate Benny Coulter was an injury doubt for this weekend's qualifier trip to Ennis to take on Clare but, coincidentally, proved his fitness in the same game when Mayobridge introduced him to midfield at half-time, specifically to do a marking job on Clarke.
Down manager James McCartan has added Gerard McCartan, who started at wing-back against Armagh, to an injury list that already includes Damien Rafferty and Conor Garvey.
And Ambrose Rodgers' long-awaited return from a cruciate injury, which had to be postponed when he picked up a bug before Down's last game, is also still on hold, though he is expected to test his fitness by lining out for club Longstone on Friday night.
One interesting addition to McCartan's squad since the Armagh debacle is county minor Caolan Mooney, who has already been recruited by Collingwood and is heading to Australia soon on a rookie contract.
McCartan caused a surprise by calling him up for the county seniors and he is expected to make his senior debut off the bench next Saturday.