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Retired Clarke could have been one of Down's all-time greats: Coulter

By Declan Bogue

Down's 2010 All-Ireland final captain, the legendary Benny Coulter, believes that Marty Clarke would have been in the "top five Down players of all time" had injury, illness and the lure of a career in Australian Rules Football not intervened.

"If he had have played for Down from when he came out of school until he finished his career, he would have been in the top five players of all time, playing for Down," Coulter insisted of his fellow 2010 All-Star.

At the tender age of 29, Clarke has insisted that he will not play Gaelic football again, with the extremely rare Addison's Disease preventing him from performing at any real level.

He was an under-age sensation in Colleges football and spearheaded the jump of St Louis Kilkeel into MacRory Cup football, where he dragged them to two finals in 2005 and 2006.

However, in late August 2006 he signed a rookie contract for Collingwood in the AFL, playing 73 games for 'The Magpies'.

He returned home and was a key player in the Mournemen's march to the All-Ireland final in 2010, which they lost to Cork.

At the time, he stated: "I could easily have stayed. But I think this is what I want to do more. I am more passionate about playing for Down than playing for Collingwood."

He returned to Australia in 2012 but injuries contributed to him making only 27 appearances in his second stint.

He never returned to the Down colours and has said that the game he played for Queen's University against DCU in the Sigerson Cup on January 25 will be his last.

Coulter has fond memories of the time spent playing alongside Clarke, during which they burned brightly.

"It was unreal when he came back in 2010. It was a dream for me personally," he recalled.

"Due to the fact that he was so good at giving the ball in, he was on the same wavelength as me.

"He knew where I was going to be within two seconds of him getting the ball. It was an absolute dream to play alongside him."

Former Down selector Brian McIver praised Clarke's adaptability when he came back to Gaelic football.

"As Marty left to go to Australia, he was one of the top Gaelic footballers in Ireland at that stage at minor level," said McIver.

"He lost a few years in Australia but when he came back he adapted very quickly. Those couple of years I was lucky enough to work with him in Down.

"The only thing that would have annoyed me was that if he had have been available for a longer period of time for Down, he would have been one of the top Gaelic footballers in the country."

McIver could wax lyrical about his abilities all day. He added: "His ability to hit a man into the chest from 50 yards… Talk to any of the lads that were playing on the inside line, he could ping a ball in an instant."

Clarke left after the 2011 Championship to return to Collingwood, but after an unsuccessful spell during which he was diagnosed with Addison's Disease - a hormonal imbalance that causes too little cortisol to be produced by the adrenal glands - he returned to Down, but not to inter-county football duty.

While in Collingwood, he was on the playing roster alongside Rostrevor's Caolan Mooney, who has returned to become an important part of the present Mournemen panel, impressing greatly in their win over Meath last Saturday night.

But the loss of Clarke and his talents has been to the Mourne county's detriment, insists Coulter.

Clarke claimed last year during his co-commentary duties with BBC's 'The Championship' coverage that Down manager Eamonn Burns had not contacted him about a possible return to the red and black jersey.

Coulter added: "Down should have taken the chance with Marty. He still had the killer pass. Even in 2010, Marty was never blessed with pace.

"He didn't have to get up and down the pitch.

"They should have taken him into the squad and used him for the killer pass in the final third. We don't have a player to do that bar Mark Poland.

"I would have loved to have seen Marty back with Down. It would have given the county a boost, would have given everybody a lift, even young people going to watch games. Down's attendances now are not good, but a boost with Marty Clarke coming off the bench with 15 minutes to go would have lifted everybody.

"And his ability to unlock a defence would very much be prized in the modern era of massed defences."

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