GAA Football

Sigerson Cup: QUB star Marty Clarke puts Down GAA return on back-burner

Marty Clarke is pleased with how he has performed with Queen’s in their two Dr McKenna Cup games to date, although his black card against Antrim on Wednesday night wasn’t part of the plan   
Andy Watters

MARTY Clarke has put a Down comeback to the back of his mind to focus on Queen University’s bid to win the Sigerson Cup.

The An Riocht clubman, who suffers from Addison’s Disease, is taking things one step at a time and ignoring the clamour for him to return to action for the Mourne county.

Clarke hasn’t played for Down since his return from Aussie Rules in 2014 but hopes are high in the county that he will make a return this season.

The 2010 Allstar, who is studying a degree in Health, Physical Activity and Sport at Stranmillis, has come through two games with Queen’s in the Dr McKenna Cup. After 70 minutes and two points against Tyrone at Healy Park last Sunday, he clipped over four frees against Antrim on Wednesday night before he was black-carded for what he admits was a blatant trip on Justin Crozier.

“I have no grounds for complaint with the decision,” said the An Riocht clubman with a chuckle.

Sunday’s game at Healy Park was Clarke’s first against county opposition since the 2011 season when he returned to Australia for a second spell with Collingwood.

“I’m getting through the games alright,” he said.

“I was happy with the game against Tyrone. I was on Aidan McCrory for a good part of it and he had a good All-Ireland series not that long ago marking some of the best forwards in the country.

“I was happy enough and I was able to line out again four days later so I’m feeling pretty good. It’s four or five years since I played at that level so it’s just getting back up to the speed of the game and coming up against a bit higher quality than intermediate club level which is what I played last year.

“All those things combine and it’ll probably take a while to get up to the standard.”

Clarke says he’ll devote his energy to playing for Queen’s and refuses to clog his mind with thoughts of pulling on the red and black jersey once again.

“The Sigerson Cup is the main focus,” he said.

“I’m just trying to get myself right for that and I’ve been doing bits and pieces on my own.

“I love being part of the Queen’s set-up. I was a bit apprehensive initially going back at 28 into a student set-up but it has been fantastic.

“Aidan O’Rourke and the Queen’s GAA family have been fantastic for me since I came back from Australia. I was getting bits and pieces of coaching last year when I wasn’t at the university and it was a really good reintroduction back into GAA for me.

“We have a game against Derry (McKenna Cup) and then we’ll be doing tactical training sessions before the game against Maynooth University (round one on January 26). We’re just hopeful we can get to the final weekend at Jordanstown and I think we deserve a crack, it’s been a few years since Queen’s have got to the final weekend so we’re all focussing on that.”

The Sigerson finals weekend is on February 19 and 20 meaning that Clarke could be available for Down for the visit of Kerry on February 27. He lined out for Down in the 2010 All-Ireland final alongside elder brother John and scored three points against the Rebels in a game the Mournemen lost by a single point.

“I haven’t got to thinking that far ahead yet,” said Clarke.

“I haven’t spoken to Eamonn Burns (manager) or the backroom team and they’ve been very understanding.

“They know that Queen’s is my priority at the minute and I’m happy with the transition from club intermediate level to university level. It’s a less steep one than straight into county level.

“Once we’re out of the Sigerson – and hopefully that’s later rather than sooner – I’ll see where things are at and chat about it then.

“There’s a lot of county boys on the Queen’s team and they’re training three/four/five times a week so I’m just happy to be focussing on Queen’s and when that finishes up I’ll be able to turn my attention elsewhere.”

The Addison’s Disease condition left Clarke extremely tired after training and games but Clarke doesn’t feel he has had to consciously change his natural game.

“Most people have to change their game in some respect as they get a bit older,” said the 28-year-old.

“I was never really the fastest on the team – I let the ball do the work when I can. I haven’t consciously tried to change my game in any way but I suppose I’ve noticed in the two games I’ve played that my passes have been intercepted a bit more than in 2011/2011.

“That’s something I’m trying to work on because you’re coming up against packed defences so I working on drilling that ball a bit harder of choosing a different pass.”

If it happens, Clarke would be a welcomed back into the Down squad but he feels that the focus should be on the players who are currently representing the county.

“Division One football is going to be a great gauge of where Down are at,” he said.

“I’ve been speaking to boys who’ve been at training and they were saying it’s been high standard, high-tempo and there’s a lot of hungry players there. There’s been a lot made of myself and Benny (Coulter) and Dan (Gordon) going back but that’s being a bit disrespectful to the guys who are there working their socks off at the minute.

“I think we should focus on the guys who are there this season and last season.”

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