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McCartan can guide Down back to top, says Clarke

By Declan Bogue

Former Down player John Clarke has claimed that James McCartan is still the man to take the county forward as the manager considers his future.

According to Clarke, there was nothing anyone could do to convince his brother Martin to stay at home with a career in Australian Rules with Collingwood luring him Down Under, Down are falling behind due to their lack of infrastructure, and reveals he would not refuse another chance in county colours.

"At the minute he is the man to take Down forward," Clarke says of his former manager.

"I can't see anyone else out there in the county or even outside to do that."

Commenting on Down's long list of absentees – due to injury, emigration and other sports – he adds: "A lot of it comes down to the players that James lost since 2010. If any other county, like a Kerry or a Dublin, suffered that they would be crying about it. But James has got on with his job, he hasn't complained."

In recent months, the question has been asked whether or not Down could have done more to hold on to their top talents, such as Martin Clarke and Caolan Mooney.

However, John Clarke insists his brother's move was motivated by a long-term strategy.

"Martin came home and had two good years but he had to think of himself," he says.

"James wanted him to stay and the county board offered him a coaching job. But Marty had to look at the bigger picture. Playing for Down, he loved that, but he had to think of his own future," says Clarke (below).

"Australia was a tempting offer for him, at the age he was, and if he had left it any longer it might not have worked out for him.

"It was his own decision and I think no matter what Down or James said to him, he wasn't going to change his mind."

It was telling that when Down played Donegal in the Ulster semi-final, chinks were exposed in the armour of the All-Ireland champions that first Monaghan, then Mayo, ruthlessly exposed.

That expertise of McCartan has not gone unnoticed in the Mourne County.

"There's no doubt that Down were very close that day and if they had taken a few scores at different stages they would have won," Clarke ventures.

"James would be very shrewd tactically, and his backroom team had a lot of homework done on Donegal. From the Derry win they had their training sessions done around the Donegal template and it very nearly came off."

However, looking more long-term, he has concerns about the lack of infrastructure within the county.

"You look at the facilities that Tyrone have up in Garvaghy and you look at what Down have. Down have nothing. They go looking for the pitch at the Abbey school, St Colman's and the odd club here and there," he says.

While adding that there is good work being carried out at school and development squad level by coaches such as Stevie Poacher, Clarke goes further: "When you don't have the facilities and the Centres of Excellence, it is harder to maybe get young lads motivated no matter how much you train them.

"I think Down are a wee bit behind that way and maybe something needs to be done to get that sort of thing in place."

Still only 30, Clarke stepped away from the county scene in June 2011. After rediscovering his form for his club An Riocht, he says he would be tempted to return to county football.

"I definitely did miss it and I would still be friendly with all the fellas. My club form has been pretty good this year. I feel pretty sharp and fit," he says.

"The level of training and intensity has gone to another level but definitely that wee bit of hunger and desire is in me to play for Down.

"Certainly if the chance came along again it is something that I would definitely consider," states Clarke.

He also believes that Down will not be further weakened by retirements this winter.

"Brendan (McVeigh) and Benny (Coulter) would be two that you might consider but the two lads seem committed to the Down cause," he adds.

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