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Clarke on the up after Down Under return

By John Campbell

Ask any footballer what his dream is and chances are that he will express a desire to become a full-time player. Martin Clarke has been there, done that but is now ready for a whole new sporting challenge.

As the 22-year-old utility forward prepares to take his National League baptism with Down against Kieran McGeeney’s Kildare side on Sunday, he can reflect on two action-packed years with Collingwood in Australian Rules and ponder the challenges that confront him as he finds his feet in the increasingly demanding inter-county sphere.

“In Australia, I was used to leaving the house at eight o’clock in the morning to get in on time for training at half-past nine and obviously my day was mapped out for me. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Collingwood but I admit that since my return I find myself adapting very quickly to a different and, I have to say with all honesty, very pleasant lifestyle,” says Martin.

Now, instead of trying to beat the early-morning traffic Down Under, he is fulfiling his new post as a full-time coaching officer with the Down board while settling into his role as playmaker with the county team — and he’s relishing every minute of his hectic daily schedule.

“I really enjoy training in the evenings again. I know a lot of players will believe that being a full-timer is a dream come true but I can tell you it is hard work. I had intended to spend at least two years in Australia but I had always been focussed on returning home while I was still young enough to give something back to my county,” maintains Clarke.

He has already delivered something in this respect given the quality of his performances in the Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup but he recognises that Down face much stiffer hurdles in Division Two of the league.

“We are starting off against a good Kildare side on Sunday and then we have to face teams like Armagh, Meath, Donegal and Laois among others so it’s going to be a difficult route for us. Still, James McCartan and his backroom team have got a great buzz going within the squad. I am very impressed with the set-up and with the way in which players are looked after,” says Martin.

His presence in the Down side has not only boosted overall morale but his creative ability has led to other players, including his older brother John, unveiling the full range of their talents.

“I’m obviously thrilled that John is in there alongside me. I have been pleasantly surprised at the level of talent within the squad and I am prepared to fight for my place. I am well aware that Down fans are disappointed that league and Championship trophies have eluded the county for a while now and I would just love to play a part in bringing some big success back to the county,” adds Martin.

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