Down have received a timely fillip as preparations for the All Ireland football semi-final against Kildare on August 29 are stepped up.
Martin Clarke, an inspirational force in their qualifier victory over Sligo before emerging as man-of-the-match in that stunning quarter-final triumph over Kerry, has just been confirmed as the latest winner of the Quinn Insurance Ulster GAA Writers Association monthly merit award.
An Riocht clubman Clarke (22) may have taken a little time to adjust to the challenge of inter-county football following his two-year spell in Australian Rules football.
Now not only does he find himself in the running for an All Ireland medal, but also a coveted Allstar award may not prove to be beyond his compass.
For now though Clarke is viewing his writers’ accolade as a further spur in his county’s pursuit of the Sam Maguire Cup.
“I must say that I derive tremendous satisfaction from this award because I see myself receiving it in recognition of what was a terrific team performance,” said Clarke.
“I am only a small part of that team — it was the overall effort of the lads and the spirit they showed against Kerry in particular that has taken us into this semi-final.
“This award is a great boost at this particular time, not just for me, but for the side as a whole. It gives us even more impetus for our game against Kildare.”
Clarke’s creative style and selfless approach have brought a fresh dimension to the team’s play this year, but he is singularly reluctant to take any credit for the progress that has been made.
“No, the plaudits must go to all the boys. Our manager James McCartan keeps emphasising that it is actually a squad as opposed to a team game and this philosophy has carried us thus far,” insists Clarke.
While Clarke’s skills as an accomplished forward had been hailed even before his departure to Australia, it was his ability to bolster the defence and launch stinging counter-attacks that underpinned the win against Kerry.
GAA Writers Association chairman John Graham believes Clarke’s capture of the merit award will help lift some of the apprehension that has been occasioned by the ligament injury sustained by captain Ambrose Rogers and which is threatening his involvement against Kildare.
“Martin Clarke has shown himself to be a very capable player and his display against Kerry was masterly,” said Graham.
“He is a very deserving winner of our award. Obviously he will be a key figure for Down in the semi-final and we know that James McCartan will certainly want Ambrose in there alongside him.”
Clarke, whose brother John is also in the Down team, previously won the writers’ prize in 2005 following outstanding performances for St Louis, Kilkeel in the MacRory Cup quarter-final and semi-final that year.
Martin’s trophy was collected on his behalf by Down trainer Paddy Tally from Rory Rafferty, Quinn Insurance Sales and Marketing Co-Ordinator.
The player received an engraved Belleek China vase, a UGAAWA sports voucher, specially designed cuff links from Gareth Mallon Jewellers and training gear from O’Neill’s International.