Family at war in Newry and Portadown final battle
Castlederg has never known an atmosphere like it.
It may be 74 and 63 miles respectively from Newry and Portadown, but the County Tyrone town has been gripped by Co-operative Insurance Cup final fever every bit as much as the city and town that will be taking part in this afternoon’s Mourneview Park showpiece.
And it’s all down to two men, Newry City captain Richard Clarke and Richard Clarke of Portadown.
Yes, that’s two Richard Clarkes, who will be going up against each other with the Co-operative Insurance Cup at stake.
With the pair’s rival clubs in battle, that means a family being split for the big final as their fathers — who are cousins — prepare to sit on opposite sides of the ground.
Known as ‘wee Clarkie’ and ‘big Clarkie’ around the local area — the Portadown Richard is five years older than his rival — for one it’s his first final, while the other is experienced on these occasions, with the Ports reaching three irish Cup finals since 2000 as well as winning the league in 2002.
“There’s been a fair bit of banter going around this week,” said Portadown’s Clarke, who will undergo a fitness test this morning to determine whether a groin injury has healed enough to allow him to take a place on the bench.
“We’ve seen each other a couple of times and there’s been phone calls and messages going back and forward between us as well.
“I’ve just been saying to him that I hope he’s isn’t too nervous before his first final — that’s about all I have on him because he’s younger and fitter than me.
“With me being older we weren’t mates when we were growing up, but he was in the same class at school as my brother Gary and they were good friends.
“There’s usually a bit of winding up between us when we play against each other and he has scored against Portadown a couple of times, but we have usually won more of the games and I think I’ve kicked him once or twice as well.
“If Newry were playing anyone else I’d be there supporting him and hoping he wins and all the family would be sitting together. This time they’ll be supporting different teams hoping their own boy ends up the winner.”
As the Newry City skipper points out though, the fact that the extended family have two players to support means that they are on a winner no matter what.
“Whatever happens there will be a Richard Clarke on the winning team,” said the younger Richard.
“I used to watch him when he played for Dergview’s under-18 team. He was a talent then and he deserved to get a move to England or Scotland when he was younger.
“One of us will be going back to Castlederg with a winners’ medal and I hope it’s me.”
It’s not just family that Clarke will be up against, with another two Castlederg natives in the Ports squad in the shape of Andrew Sproule and semi-final hero Richard Lecky, there will be a sizeable contingent from the town converging on Lurgan.
“It’ll be strange for me because Andrew Sproule is my best mate, we go out together and I talk to him all the time,” said the Newry Clarke.
“We’ll all shake hands before the match and at the end no matter what happens. I am going there to win, but I will feel for them if they lose.”