'When I go to bed I'm not crying myself to sleep' - Mayo keeper David Clarke
David Clarke is enjoying quite an Indian summer to his Mayo football career. After overcoming a serious hamstring injury in 2013 and losing his place to injury again in 2015, he has returned to win back-to-back All-Stars in the last two years, polling just ahead of Stephen Cluxton on both occasions.
So the thought of retirement last winter, 17 years on from his first exposure to a Mayo senior football squad at the age of 17, didn't enter his head. On the Wednesday after the latest defeat to Dublin in an All-Ireland final, he was back training with his club Ballina Stephenites and by January he was in on the inter-county treadmill once more.
"When you enjoy playing football and training, you just try to make the most of it and get out there as much as you can," he reasoned at the recent Connacht GAA Championship launch.
"Obviously, I'm getting a bit older (35 in November) now so you try and make the most of every year. Come January I had no hesitation in coming back again. I enjoyed the year and the competition."
The disappointment of being so near and yet so far remains but it's not something he says he dwells on.
"When I go to bed I'm not crying myself to sleep. If you were to sit down and think too much about it you could tie yourself into a knot. Is it ever going to happen?" he asked.
"Maybe in a few years' time when I stop, I might look back a bit differently at things. But in the middle of it, you just keep on going and make the best of it."
Clarke was in the thick of things in that controversial finale to last year's All-Ireland final, his last kick-out going out over the sideline and giving possession back to Dublin which they expertly used to close down the game with a one-point lead.
With colleagues being dragged to the ground as he lined up his kick, the delay may have unnerved him, on top of his kicking tee being thrown away before that. But Clarke admits there was no one to blame but himself for that last despatch and says kicking tees are often tampered with during games.
"I had a few tees. It's happened in plenty of games," he said.
"I didn't think anything too much of it. Obviously, I didn't hit the best kick-out but that wasn't anything to do with the pressure that was being put on.
"There was a man free that I was aiming for but I didn't get him.
"I looked around and I saw everyone was tightly marked. During the game there were tees being thrown away but I didn't pay a huge amount of attention to it. I wasn't in a rush coming out with the ball, I was coming out slowly to try and get the ball a bit further out.
"That's what some teams will do," he said of Dublin disruption. "We might have done the same thing if we were in the same position.
"You want to win in the right way, you want to be five points up but if you're not you might try something different. Maybe if we were in that position, we'd take it, if we won it."
Clarke expresses genuine concern at Mayo's league form and feels there's a huge improvement to make after they stayed in Division 1, courtesy of Kevin McLoughlin's last-gasp equaliser in Ballybofey at the end of March.
"Going down to the last minute of the last game to snatch a draw to stay up, that's not the way we set out to go through our league. But a lot of players got a lot more football than they got in previous seasons.
"A few new players came through, so hopefully we're going to be a stronger panel on the back of it.
"We did show good resilience in that Donegal game. To maintain Division 1 status is vital, not just for the development of the team but for Mayo GAA. Bigger crowds, bigger attendances can only help things get better from underage on.
"But that kick of the ball, does it cover over the huge amount of cracks, the bad things that happened throughout the league?
"We've reviewed the campaign and got to the point where there is a huge amount of work to be done."
Clarke attributes his performance levels to the man he pipped for the last two All-Stars and who he shared a Footballer of the Year nomination with in 2017, something that surprised him.
"I didn't foresee myself being in the mix for it. As a fan, I see the footballers as the boys out the pitch kicking the ball over the bar and making the tackles and blocks. Goalkeeping is like a sport within a sport, at times.
"Stephen has changed how goalkeeping is thought about. I'm just following on from him. When I started, I wasn't kicking the way I'm kicking now and that's probably because Stephen did it so well and other managers and teams wanted something similar. You either develop with that or you're going to be left behind.
"It was lovely to get the (All-Star) award but I'm sure it was the toss of a coin. There wasn't much between us."
Coming Soon: Independent.ie's new GAA newsletter. Sign up here