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Marty Clarke not giving up on a return for Mourne men

By Donnchadh Boyle

Published 28/05/2015

Fighting back: Marty Clarke is battling Addison’s disease, which saps away at his energy levels
Fighting back: Marty Clarke is battling Addison’s disease, which saps away at his energy levels

Marty Clarke is on the beach near his house and wheezing hard.

In fact, he's wheezing much, much harder than a man of his age and background should be. But that's the hand he's been dealt, he can only get on with it.

Addison's disease has no known cure and everything about it flies in the face of what you need from your body for top level sport.

Still, he is chasing his dream of playing for Down again -and chasing it hard. When the lungs are burning and his heart pounds, just one thought runs through his mind.

"That's what's in my head. 2016. Red and black," he says.

He was still in Australia at the time and fighting for his future in the AFL but inexplicably his form, and his weight, plummeted worryingly.

"Before I got diagnosed I didn't know what it was," he recalls. "I was still playing professionally in Australia so I was trying to conserve all my energy for training and games.

"It was really strange for a young, fit guy to suddenly be struggling to get up the stairs some days in the space of two months."

Along with his health his chances of finding another club went through the floor as his poor form was mistaken for a bad attitude.

To that point he had known little other than being a highly thought of sportsman. Now everything was falling down around him.

"There were a couple of other clubs interested in me at the time because my performances for Collingwood reserves dropped off so dramatically it almost looked like I wasn't trying anymore.

"In that respect the interest went out the window very soon.

"My wife and I had talked about moving interstate to a new adventure within Australia and playing there. But I don't blame them for not picking me.

"I could tell them this is the condition I have and next year when I'm on medication it'll be fine but it's too complicated for them. I have to understand where they are coming from too."

News of his return home, along with that of another prodigious talent in Caolan Mooney, sparked renewed hope in Down. And while Mooney has settled back in with the squad, Clarke's comeback has been much more low key.

Back in 2010, he returned from the AFL where he was thought of as something of a sensation.

He brought his side to a point of the All-Ireland title and in the process earned himself a nomination for Footballer of the Year.

This time around, his condition means he has eased himself back into club football with An Riocht, starting with a 20 minute cameo and working his way up to a full hour's football.

All the while, he's been experimenting with his medicine levels and dosage. Finding the right balance is a challenge. Clarke has found just one elite level athlete who has coped with the disease. Canadian gymnast Nathan Gafuik has been to three Olympic Games. It's inspiration.

"I was relieved to be diagnosed to be honest because I had lost a lot of weight as well and I just wanted to get to the bottom of it," he said. "I was sick and tired of feeling the way I was so then once we were given how to deal with it, it was just a matter of accepting it and moving on.

"I don't really look back with any regrets or bitterness because it's not a positive energy to carry through. I'm just thankful it wasn't something more sinister."

This summer, he'll form part of Newstalk's team of analysts for the championship. Down can still be a top eight side he reckons and he'll enjoy the role, but he's only keeping the seat warm.

He's gotten clearance to take his various medicines without falling foul of any doping guidelines until 2019. All being well, he'll have his hand up for Down selection next year. Everything between now and then will be dedicated to that moment.

An inter-county comeback would open another remarkable chapter in a remarkable career.

JOE Brolly has been taken to task by RTE following his Marty Morrissey "ugly" jibe last Sunday.

Brolly caused outrage when, in the build-up to the Ulster SFC clash between Monaghan and Cavan, he said: "Some people have said that Cavan football is as ugly as Marty Morrissey. I should apologise... to the people of Cavan for that."

Morrissey, an RTE gaelic games presenter and commentator, has received a profuse apology from Brolly but RTE have warned the barrister.

Ryle Nugent, RTE's Group Head of Sport, confirmed that he had spoken to Brolly.

"Joe is cognisant of the fact that similar comments in any future broadcast cannot and will not be tolerated," said Nugent.

Belfast Telegraph

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