I thought my Republic of Ireland career was over: Ciaran Clark
International friendly: Republic of Ireland v New Zealand (tonight, Dublin, 7.45pm)
CIARAN Clark thought his international career might have been over due to a lack of game-time at Newcastle United – but after earning a recall he plans to take his second chance with both hands.
Now 30, Clark caught the tail end of the Giovanni Trapattoni era before emerging as a regular for a good chunk of Martin O’Neill’s reign, starting two Euro 2016 games (Sweden and Belgium) in France.
But as the wheels came off on O’Neill, Clark’s international form also suffered a dip. His last start in the green jersey came in a 4-1 Nations League drubbing by Wales 14 months ago.
But following Richard Keogh picking up a serious knee injury, a central defensive berth in the squad was up for grabs.
And thanks to an upturn in fortunes at club level, the England-born defender, whose parents are from Leitrim, is almost certain to resume his international career in tonight’s friendly against New Zealand, his first call-up under Mick McCarthy.
On being out in the international wilderness, Clark felt he probably wouldn’t add to his 32 caps. “That does go through your head when you aren’t playing games,” he said.
“But there was always a thing in the back of my mind knowing I was going to be playing games eventually, whether it was at Newcastle or not. I always thought there would be a chance.
“Look, the lads have done brilliantly in this campaign. I’m just glad to be back involved and back with the boys. There are some fresh new faces. I’m just looking forward to the games now.”
It’s highly unlikely, however, Clark will force his way into McCarthy’s thinking for Monday night’s Euro 2020 showdown with Denmark given the impressive form of Shane Duffy and John Egan at the heart of the Irish defence.
He regards his international career up to now as “a bit up and down”, adding: “When I was younger I never expected to play as many games as I’ve done. I never expected to play at all. Obviously the amount of games I’ve played is good. But there is that thing where you are thinking, ‘Could there have been more?’”
Since he was last with the Republic squad, he’s noticed the average age has plummeted with the likes of Tottenham’s Tory Parrott, Celtic’s Lee O’Connor, Charlton’s Josh Cullen, Shamrock Rovers’ Jack Byrne and Burton goalkeeper Kieran O’Hara among them.
“You can see there are a lot of younger lads involved and it’s great to see,” said Clark.
“It’s refreshing. We’ve had a couple of sessions and you can definitely tell there is a lot of quality there. It’s going to be an exciting future for some of the lads.”
After enjoying seven years with Aston Villa, Clark has spent the last three at Newcastle United.
Manager Steve Bruce pulled him in from the cold at the end of September following a demoralising 5-0 hammering at the hands of Leicester City with the Toon Army beating Manchester United in their next league fixture with Clark playing a defiant role.
Last weekend, he grabbed the winning goal in Newcastle’s 2-1 home win over Bournemouth.
“At the start of the season I wasn’t making the squads or I was making the bench and then the next week I was out of the squad due to the fact that there were a lot of players back fit again and more attacking players to come back onto the bench. But I managed to get my chance in the end and it has been brilliant since.”