GAA Football

Where are they now? Former Armagh forward Ronan Clarke takes a walk down memory lane...

Ronan Clarke emerged as a major force for Armagh en route to their 2002 All-Ireland title success. Picture by Ann McManus

Age: 35

Club: Pearse Og

Position: Full-forward

When did you play for Armagh?

From 2000 until around about the 2011 season. My last game was a League game down in Laois in 2010.

What do you do nowadays?

Me and my brother Conor have run our own gym, Clarke Fitness in Armagh, for the last three years.

Are you still involved in Gaelic football?

I’ve been coaching since after I got the injuries. I went back and played with the club for a while and then I was just coaching in and out. I was with Monaghan Harps, we won a junior championship in Tullysaran, their first ever, and got them to intermediate the next year. I’m just coaching with my own club now.

What do you remember about your first game for Armagh?

I was always on the fringes of it and then I got a start in the League against Antrim in 2002, I scored 1-1 or 1-2 I remember up in Casement Park.

In the Championship then, Tony McEntee went over on his ankle early on in that Tyrone game in Clones, I got the call up and never looked back.

It was a big challenge to get into that Armagh team. They were having good runs in Ulster, going for All-Irelands so it was daunting I suppose, but the first thing you want to do is prove you deserve to be there.

I remember the first time I went to training at Callanbridge, there’s a footbridge there and I looked over and saw all the cars pulling in. I was working from home at the time when I got the call up, and I just stood there for about 15 minutes because I was going to turn my back and walk on up the road again.

Only that Paul McGrane wound down the window shouted to me, he took me in then. But all the boys fairly made you feel welcome. They knew you were there for the cause.

There was plenty of great nights there too… it was very enjoyable. It wasn’t just all serious heads on us, there was plenty of craic at some of the training sessions. If it was that serious you’d just have fallen under the strain of it.

Jesus Christ, when you’ve Benny Tierney about there’s never a dull moment.

What is the best memory from your playing days?

I was playing minor football with my oldest brother and we kept getting beat in the semi-finals of the Ulster Minor Football Tournament at St Paul’s, but in 2000 we eventually won it. We beat Cavan Gaels in the final, and that was a big achievement.

Then the 2009 county championship win with the club was special because for years we’d been trying to get it.

Obviously ’02 was brilliant. Unfortunately I started picking up injuries after that and it was a struggle. I was just reading Jack McCaffrey talking about coming back from a cruciate injury.

I did my ACL around the 2005 season and came back and got an Allstar, so I knew where he was coming from when I was reading it. Doing hours of rehab by yourself, you don’t feel a part of it, your head’s messing with you.

He even said in his first game back he thought he was going to score 3-6 or whatever and I remember thinking exactly the same thing. Then you fall over the first ball that comes to you and reality hits.

And the worst?

Every day you got beat you had to go away and look yourself in the mirror and see where you could improve. Every defeat is tough, especially when they started opening up GAA forums and all that online, which was cruelty to people.

The time you had to walk away was hard too. I knew I was going in for an operation and I had to go away and tell the club I wouldn’t be playing that season and, even though I was trying to get back in training, it was tough going.

The first Achilles injury was hard because you were so close to coming back, only to break down again. I thought I’d be back in a couple of weeks again but then when you go back into training, it’s just a whole increase in intensity.

I remember feeling good then going to play a game against Maghery down in Maghery and I felt it go again. They tried their best to get me back but unfortunately it just didn’t work.

Who is the biggest character you have played with?

There’s quite a number of them. They were all good craic I have to say – even ‘Geezer’ smiled and cracked a joke once in a while. Benny and Oisin [McConville], the Macs [John and Tony McEntee] were always good craic and kept the thing going.

Any regrets?

Injuries are part and parcel of the game. You play games over in your head and think you maybe could have done better, but you know what, I did my best and I’ve no regrets. I’m happy with what I got out of it.

People say ‘you couldn’t be’ but there’s no point saying that. The years when I was injury-free I played like they were my last and that’s the advice I would give any young fella – go out and play like you’re playing your last game because you never know what’s around the corner.

Interview by Neil Loughran

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