When Down overcame Kerry in a mesmerising All Ireland football championship quarter-final last year, Martin Clarke served up one of the best individual performances witnessed at Croke Park for some considerable time.
Many followers from both counties indeed were united afterwards on one aspect of the contest — Clarke’s tour de force offering alone, had been worth the admission money.
Not only was his distribution impeccable and his work-rate straight out of the top drawer but he also contributed four superb points in Down’s emphatic 1-16 to 1-10 victory.
Tomorrow, Clarke will return to Headquarters with Down, this time focussed on jettisoning Dublin’s hopes of extending their impressive unbeaten record in Division One of the Allianz Football League, a record that spans five wins from five outings
Down may lie in third place in the table but they underlined, in their recent victory over Monaghan, that they have regained their ambition and poise following their temporary blip against Cork who occupy second place.
And with Clarke continuing to mastermind the team’s attacking strategy, manager James McCartan is hopeful that a display similar to that unleashed against the Kingdom last August might just be on the menu again.
Ironically, Down are due to complete their scheduled league programme against Kerry on Sunday week.
But the Dubs are very much on McCartan’s radar right now although he is in typically cautious mood as he approaches tomorrow night’s showdown which will be part of a double bill that also embraces the Dublin v Kilkenny Division One hurling clash.
“We could not be asking for a bigger test than to be facing two of the best teams in the country in our last two league games,” insists McCartan.
“This is surely ideal preparation for the championship and while we maybe have an outside chance of getting into the league final, we have already attained our initial goal which was to make sure we kept our place in the top division for next season.”
His team will not be prepared to settle for this modest prize,
though. They are clearly fired up to finish their league campaign with a flourish and perhaps no one epitomises their spirit better than Clarke himself.
“Croke Park is the place where we want to be playing. We beat Kerry and Kildare there last year in the All Ireland quarter-final and semi-final before losing to Cork in the final.
“We had lost to Armagh there earlier as well in the Division Two league final but we are very intent on giving a good account of ourselves this Sunday,” says Clarke.
With Brendan McVeigh and Daniel McCartan back in the frame and Danny Hughes, a fit -again Benny Coulter and the busy Mark Poland complementing Clarke’s aristocratic touches in attack, the Mournemen are fully armed for battle.
Dublin manager Pat Gilroy, concerned at the manner in which his side leaked scores in their last outing against Mayo, has amended his defence but midfield ace Michael Dara McAuley along with key forwards Bernard Brogan, Diarmuid Connolly and Tómas Quinn are arguably the players who will form the biggest threat to Down’s hopes of victory.