The ongoing clamour to have the timing of next Saturday’s Ulster Championship showpiece fixture between Armagh and Down changed has gone right over the head of Mourne playmaker Martin Clarke — and with good reason.
The former Australian Rules player is a firm advocate of evening fixtures and the clash with the Manchester United v Barcelona Champions League final does not bother him in the least.
“The timing of the game suits me as a matter of fact,” says Clarke. “I prefer to get a good lie-in on the day of a match and prepare properly for it. If the game were to take place at, say, two o’clock on Sunday or something like that I might not be entirely happy but the present arrangements are fine by me. I won’t be wasting any of my mental energy thinking about it.”
And the possibility that the live televising of what is seen as the dream European final could have a detrimental affect on the attendance at the Morgan Athletic Grounds is a matter of indifference to the quietly-spoken Clarke.
“I could not care less if this is the case — that’s not for us as players to worry about,” said Clarke.
His primary concern is that Down should build on the experience they gained last year so that they can perhaps win silverware “of some description”, as he puts it.
Despite their majestic surge into last year’s All-Ireland final in which they fell by a solitary point to Cork, Down’s defeat by Tyrone in the Ulster Championship semi-final still rankles and Clarke, such an influential figure in their memorable journey through the Qualifiers, believes that a trophy could be well within the ambit of James McCartan’s side.
But he refutes the suggestion that Down will be under additional pressure because of the progress they made last year.
“Obviously no team will be going in against us thinking ‘it’s only Down’ because they will have absorbed our performances from last year and will know that little bit more about us both individually and collectively. But I don’t think that this will put us under any great deal of extra pressure,” says Clarke.
Given the tame fare that has been on offer to date in the championship, the expectation is that Saturday’s meeting of these neighbouring rivals will finally ignite what has been a low-key competition.
And it’s doubtful if anyone is as enthusiastic as Clarke about the match-up.
“As far as I am concerned it’s great to be going in against Armagh. We are well up for this game as a lot of the boys have been showing a great improvement in training over the past few weeks and there’s no better way of testing ourselves than in a big derby game against the likes of Armagh who have had so much success in the Ulster championship over the past decade,” maintains Clarke.
Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke, of course, has an extensive knowledge of Down football having led his native county to All Ireland glory in 1991 and managed the side since then, but Clarke stresses that the ‘inside information’ is not all one-sided.
“Jerome Johnston, one of James McCartan’s selectors, has coached in Armagh for a year or so and Brian McIver, another selector, is very knowledgeable about all the teams in Ulster so we won’t be lacking in information. We have prepared well and we are ready for battle,” smiles Clarke.
Clarke, one of four Down players to win Allstar awards last year, accepts though that O’Rourke’s first-hand knowledge of the Down players could be a benefit to him in laying his tactical plans.
“Paddy will know a good few of the boys in our squad from his experience with Down but you would have to say on a broader front that everyone in Ulster knows everyone else’s game so it’s really down to the players on the day,” adds Clarke.