GAA Football

Former Down forward John Clarke hoping for move into coaching world after hanging up boots

Former Down forward John Clarke came out of retirement to have one more crack at club football with St John's, Drumnaquoile, but now has his sights set on a coaching career. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran

AFTER finally calling time on his playing days, former Down forward John Clarke is planning to bring his experience into the coaching world in the not-too-distant future.

Despite hanging up his boots at the end of St John’s, Drumnaquoile’s 2019 intermediate championship campaign, Clarke opted to give it one last go this year, having kept himself in shape throughout lockdown and into the summer months.

That campaign ended in narrow defeat to Dromara at the end of August, and Clarke – who turns 38 tomorrow – has already started to turn his attention to the next chapter in his career.

“I’ve done bits and pieces with underage teams at different clubs, attended various coaching seminars and am always studying the games, so it’s something I’ve had my eye on since I’ve known I was coming to the end of my playing days,” he said.

“I had decided last year that was me and I had every intention of hanging them up, but the way things panned out with the shortened season, I wanted to give it one more go. Obviously it didn’t pan out great for St John’s but I’ve no regrets about going back this year.

“Now, though, I feel like I’ve got that completely out of my system and I’m ready to move on to a new challenge. When you quit playing you’re always going to have that void to fill and coaching’s something I would enjoy and have a passion for.

“I’ve plenty of experience down through the years of working with some of the best managers about, so hopefully something comes up.

“I’ve had a couple of informal conversations with different people but nothing’s really concrete yet, so we’ll see how it pans out over the next few weeks. But it’s something I definitely am keen to get involved in at some level and get on the ladder.”

Between his club and county careers, Clarke picked up plenty of tips from some of the top managers in the game – having initially been brought into the Down panel by Pete McGrath in 2002 before again working with the two-time All-Ireland winner at An Riocht.

It was at the Kingdom where he also played under the highly-rated Steven Poacher, while Castlewellan man Gerry Dougherty proved manager and mentor during Down’s run to the 1999 All-Ireland minor title, before the pair hooked up again in San Francisco years later.

And Clarke - part of the Mourne County side that reach the 2010 All-Ireland final under James McCartan - hopes the lessons learned from a long playing career can help him make a mark in the coaching world.

“There’s been plenty of different coaching techniques and personalities along the way,” he said.

“The key is probably getting a good mix of them all, trying to take different bits from them all and use it to my advantage. There’s plenty of ideas and experience to pass on.

“At the end of the day, Gaelic football is not an overly complicated game. You have a good fitness base, your core basic skills, which maybe sometimes can get lost in weights and that side of things.

“Obviously the strength and conditioning side of things is important, but it’s those basic skills that can make the difference. We’ll see what happens, but I feel like I have something to offer.”

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GAA Football