GAA Football

Marty Clarke could be lost to Down

Marty Clarke in action for Down in the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final. The An Ríocht man, who turns 29 this weekend, hasn't featured in the plans of current manager Eamonn Burns
Andy Watters

MARTY CLARKE could be lost to county football unless the Down management take proactive steps to bring him back into the fold.

The Irish News understands Clarke - who turns 29 this weekend - will not feature for the Mourne men next season. The An Ríocht star was ignored throughout a wretched 2016 season for the Mourne men, who were relegated from Division One and exited the Championship after losses to Monaghan (by 19 points) and Longford.

Now, the 2010 Allstar forward, who spearheaded his club to Division One last season, will play for Queen’s University in the Sigerson Cup, but has no plans to return to the inter-county scene.

According to his brother John, “time constraints” and ongoing issues with Addison’s Disease make it impossible for Clarke to commit to full-time training with Eamonn Burns’ Down panel. Clarke could be tempted back into the fold if he was granted some flexibility by the county management team, but that seems improbable.

“He’s playing away with Queen’s and he had a fantastic year with An Ríocht last year,” John, a team-mate on the 2010 All-Ireland final side, said.

“He almost single-handedly got them promotion to Division One and they lost out in the intermediate championship final. He’s happy playing Sigerson for Queen’s and he just feels that he can’t give the level of commitment required at county level due to time constraints and also due to his Addison’s Disease.

“That’s where he is, but it could change if he was approached by Eamonn and maybe asked in the right manner. If he was asked to work with him in a more flexible manner he might consider it, but at the minute I can’t see Marty playing for Down next year.”

Last season, Clarke admitted an approach from Down manager Burns “would have been nice”, but it never came. Months on, nothing has changed and without proactive steps from the Down manager it seems distinctly possible that the richly-talented Clarke - whose deadeye accuracy from placed balls alone would benefit the Mourne men - could be lost to the county.

Meanwhile, John Clarke has welcomed the appointment of St Colman’s College coach Cathal Murray onto the Down management panel. Murray has guided the Newry Gaelic football nursery to Hogan and MacRory Cup successes and the 1991 All-Ireland winner also has experience of club management with Saul.

“He’ll bring a wealth of experience and he’s a fresh face as well,” said Clarke.

Former Down star John Clarke has welcomed the appointment of 1991 All-Ireland winner Cathal Murray to the management team

“He played for Down for a lot of years as well and he’s been linked with the minor squad in the past so now he’s got his chance to do something at senior level and it’s a good move by Eamonn Burns.”

Murray’s experience will come in handy as Down look forward to a Division Two campaign that begins in Newry against Pete McGrath’s Fermanagh on February 4. Down also host Kildare, Meath and Galway and home form will be vital with difficult away trips to Clare, Derry and Cork coming up. After that there’s the Ulster Championship clash with rivals Armagh at Páirc Esler and the build-up has already begun among fans.

“Down haven’t had a home game in the Ulster Championship for years so a lot of Down fans are just happy to have a game in Newry and we’ll work from that,” said Clarke.

“It’ll be a tough league and to try and get themselves up after last year will be very hard. If Down can survive in Division Two and beat Armagh in the first round of the Championship would be a successful season but it’s a big ask.

“There are winnable games, like the first one against Fermanagh, so we’ll need to get off to a good start and then consolidate towards the Championship.”

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