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Clarke's return a highlight as clubs finally take centre stage

By Declan Bogue

Now that the noise has died down over the county scene, we enter the favourite time of the year for many within the GAA - the height of the club season.

With county finals and Ulster club action now dominating every weekend, we plug into the soul of clubs and find that they have a story to tell, and aren't shy in telling it.

Omagh St Enda's hosted a media night last week. They put up their big guns for interview, and one key performer for them is the forgotten man of Tyrone football, Conor Clarke.

It's almost forgotten about now, but the young man made his debut in 2012 against Donegal in the Ulster Championship, marking no less than Michael Murphy. Although Tyrone lost that day, Clarke acquitted himself brilliantly and a decade in the full-back slot look assured.

That is until injuries tore away at his body, and his belief system.

At the end of 2016, Mickey Harte suggested it might be best for him to try and put a run together with the club.

"I couldn't tell you the last time I put six or seven games back to back. I have doubled that this year," Clarke said.

It all started with a cruciate, medial and meniscus ligament injury in 2014, meaning he missed out on Omagh's Tyrone Championship, although he was rushed back to be on the pitch as they lost the Ulster final to Slaughtneil.

He ruptured the medial and meniscus in his other knee soon after which led on to a run of niggling injuries throughout 2015 and 2016.

Now he is back and, having played over a dozen consecutive games for his club, radiates happiness before playing his first county final with his club this Sunday against Errigal Ciaran.

The man who was in the gym only days after his first serious injury owes a debt of gratitude to the GPA and their Ulster representative Tomás Colton for the hours they gave in sorting paperwork for surgeries and scans, along with Colton's housecalls and books handed out on permanent loan, something that Clarke credits as changing his entire outlook on his injury.

"The house was like a wake house," he laughs now when he thinks of that time.

"My mum had the kettle on all the time. I think there were a couple of boys coming to just pick up the food left over!"

This Sunday, he pays them back.

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