Clarke ensuring his Tyrone boys know hard work can open doors
When he's not playing in the Champions League, Richard Clarke is busy coaching the superstars of tomorrow.
The Crusaders midfielder has endured a hectic summer, balancing his playing and coaching responsibilities - he is a regular in Stephen Baxter's all-conquering north Belfast team and also oversees County Tyrone's SuperCup NI squad.
Richard, along with Stephen Clarke, who is no relation, is in charge of the county's Under-15 side, who are due to play MS Select, Armagh and Alset Colombia in next week's youth tournament.
Last night, Clarke was in Denmark for the second-leg of Crusaders' Champions League second round qualifier against FC Copenhagen.
The former Newry City and Glentoran man believes it's important that his young players understand that a career in the Irish League can be extremely rewarding.
"It's great to get the opportunity to play against teams like Copenhagen and to play in stadiums like the Parken," he said. "It shows that the rewards are there for Irish League players if they get their head down and work hard.
"I think that's something important for the coaches to pass on to the lads at the SuperCup. Even if you don't make it across the water, you can still enjoy a fantastic career in the Irish League.
"At Tyrone, lads like Stuart Dallas and Niall McGinn have gone on to have fantastic careers. But even they have done it the hard way, playing in the Irish League before getting a move across the water.
"If you look through our old squad lists, you will see that only two or three each year actually make the grade at Irish League level. It's important that the young lads understand they will have to work hard if they're going to make it, even locally."
Despite his busy schedule, midfielder Clarke is relishing the opportunity to coach at the competition, which was formerly known as the Milk Cup.
"It's been a hectic few weeks with the Champions League qualifiers and the SuperCup NI, but I wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy it," he added. "I've been busy every night, either training with Crusaders or coaching with Tyrone. Thankfully, my co-manager Stephen Clarke is very understanding. He is looking after everything while I am in Denmark."
While County Tyrone don't have the resources of the top clubs at the competition, Clarke doesn't believe that means his side can't compete. He explained: "The likes of Down and Antrim have a much bigger panel to pick from. I think we had just over 50 lads who applied for our trials.
"But that doesn't mean we can't compete. The likes of Aaron Hughes, Stuart Dallas and Niall McGinn have proved that coming from Tyrone isn't necessarily a disadvantage. We have three difficult games but we will give a good account of ourselves."
The Tyrone Premier side, meanwhile, play Vendee, Fermanagh and O'Higgins.