Omagh's Conor Clarke set for second chance in Tyrone SFC final
CONOR Clarke is ready to seize his second chance.
He missed out on a Tyrone SFC triumph in 2014 through injury, but on Sunday he will step into the midfield engine-room at Healy Park as Omagh take on Errigal Ciaran in the county final.
Three years ago, Clarke scored the goal that launched his club's drive for a first title in 26 years, an early first round strike against Coalisland at Dunmoyle.
But just a few minutes later he was stretchered from the field with ruptured knee ligaments, the beginning of a two-year injury nightmare.
Omagh went on to end a famine spanning more than a quarter of a century, but Clarke wasn't a part of it.
"I missed out on 2014, did the cruciate, medial and meniscus ligaments, then I rushed back a wee bit early and did the medial and meniscus in the other knee in 2015.
"Unfortunately I made the mistake of coming back four-and-a-half months after surgery. That was for an Ulster final, and it was a do-at-all-costs kind of job, I didn't know if I'd ever get back to an Ulster final.
"I'd still be wary. It's always in the back of your mind. But lucky enough, this year, touch wood, I have had a clean bill of health, so I'm happy with that."
Clarke's struggle with injuries also impacted on a promising Tyrone career. A second knee injury, allied to various setbacks, prevented him from building momentum, and at the start of this year he departed the county set-up.
"He (Mickey Harte) said it would be of more benefit to get a run of games instead of rushing yourself back and ruining yourself. Looking back now, that's' what was happening.
"And I suppose now, looking back it was a good call to take a step away, get the head stuck in with the club and get a good run with them. It's on the upward curve at the minute."
But he hasn't given up on the dream of representing his county once again, and he's hoping the form he has found this year will propel him back into the plans of the manager.
"It's always the goal. Everybody wants to play with their county, and it will be a target that I'll be looking to achieve.
"This year I've had a deadly run of games with the club, and I hope it's not going to end shortly.
"I couldn't tell you the last time I put six or seven games back to back, and I've more than doubled that this year."
Omagh haven't been back in a championship final since that triumphant afternoon when they overcame Carrickmore with a late Ronan O'Neill goal.
Clarke watched that game with mixed emotions from the Healy Park stand, but this time he can make a difference.
"It was probably the toughest game I've ever watched, although I wouldn't change it now. the joy it brought to the boys was something different."
Omagh's championship schedule has been fast-tracked. Due to a couple of postponements of their first round tie, they found themselves playing three games in the space of ten days, but Clarke feels the team has benefited from the momentum.
"The games coming thick and fast has probably been a benefit to us, but it means nothing of we don't turn up next Sunday."
Now, with a two-week break between semi-final and final, manager Paddy Crozier has had time to manage rest and recovery for his players and take a measured approach to a strategy for the title decider.
"It will give the body a bit of a rest, we had three tough games in 10 days. There's time now to work on things, things that you might skip over if you didn't have that time, and come county final day they might cost you. But now we have time to take a step back, analyse what went well, analyse what went wrong, improve the rights and put right the wrongs".