I have been having withdrawal symptoms lately, missing both my studio pals Mark and Marty, so I decided this week to call on Marty Clarke for a chat.
The epitome of a young footballing superstar, poise, balance, grace and a deadly finisher marked him out as the best player have I ever sen at McCrory Cup level.
He was Down's next big thing before he was spotted and taken to the other side of the world, where he mastered Aussie Rules quicker and better than any Irish player before or after him.
Crucial in Down's run to the All-Ireland Final in 2010, he was a player that had it all. Now, he's a very astute aspiring coach - and part of the best punditry team!
Having got to know him over the years, he is a very good reader of the game, a nice guy and a dedicated family man to boot with wife Anna and three great kids. Marty Clarke is not yet finished making his mark.
Oisin: You’re still so young — how does not playing feel?
Martin: I harness zero ambition to play again at this stage. I am thoroughly enjoying still being part of the game through management (St. John’s — Down Intermediate club) and the media roles I have. I try to keep in good condition and obviously miss the buzz of playing well in front of big crowds, but I have happy memories of my playing days and feel content.
Oisin: You are regarded as one of Down’s finest ever players. How do you feel about that?
Martin: No. In my head, I had a handful of quality games in a Down shirt. It’s humbling when people come up and speak fondly of watching me play in the Red and Black, but to be spoken about in the same breath as Greg Blaney, Ross Carr, Mickey Linden and James McCartan is not something I am comfortable with. These guys over a long period of time kept producing massive performances and they have the medals to prove it. I am honoured that some fans do see me as being one of the top players to have played for Down, I just don’t agree with them.
Oisin: Was your career unfulfilled?
Martin: My sporting career has taken me all over the world and really defined me as a person to this point. The people I've met, challenges faced and the stages I've been able to perform on have been incredible. From a medals and number of games played viewpoint, I would probably like to have added more, but on a holistic level my career has given me everything I could have possibly hoped for.
Oisin: How big was the decision to go to Oz?
Martin: It was the biggest decision I ever made — and the best. Life was great in Ireland in 2006, I got straight As in my A-Levels, an All-Ireland Minor title in the bag, I was looking forward to going to uni in Belfast and a long career with Down. Then Derek Hine, the head recruiter for Collingwood, literally knocked on my door and the opportunity of a lifetime arrived. Getting paid good money to train hard and play in front of big crowds every week in a sunny climate... as good as Belfast seemed to an 18-year-old, it just couldn't compete with that.
Oisin: What was the first stint like?
Martin: I was very determined to play first-team football in my first year. I worked harder and longer than any other player on the Collingwood roster in 2007 because in my head I was years behind them. I broke into the team in Round 12 (it should have been Round 2!) which is a record. From there, I had three very good years and played close to 50 games.
Oisin: And the second? They say never go back.
Martin: I feel quite aggrieved at the perception that my second stint wasn't as successful. In the two years I’d returned to Ireland, Collingwood had become the best team in the League, winning the 2010 Grand Final and just losing the 2011 one. I immediately broke into that side and played nearly 30 games in those first two years back. I think maybe the expectation of me was higher and that nobody in the media has actually examined or compared the two stints, they just go with the general narrative that it was a failure for me. Until I got diagnosed with Addison's Disease at the start of my third year, I was going well.
Oisin: How different is life in Oz?
Martin: Extremely different! Melbourne is a city of five million people. The lights, the people, the beaches, how multicultural it is, it is all so different to growing up right on Cranfield beach. Notwithstanding all that, there are so many similarities within the sporting environment, personalities and traits that you can compare easily between a rural GAA club and a large AFL club. It was this element that helped me feel at home pretty quickly. The people at Collingwood were amazing and so welcoming.
Oisin: Do you feel you missed out on so much with Down?
Martin: I am very grateful for the two years I had with Down. Getting to the All-Ireland Final and playing big games in Croke Park regularly were amazing, and so many Down players never had that chance. Obviously I am curious as to how good I could have become if I’d stayed at home and stayed free from Addison’s Disease, which made it very difficult to play at the top level. I can manage the condition with daily medication but getting back to that elite level was never really possible.
Oisin: When did you realise you would call it quits?
Martin: Halfway through the second half of the Down Intermediate final in 2016! I was captaining An Riocht and we had high hopes of winning the Final. I had played good football that year and created so many chances for the team throughout the year. I was really enjoying it and the club was flying. But in the Final we met a dog-hungry Bredagh side who had Jody Gormley absolutely flying. They deservedly went about seven points up and they had a young lad who didn't leave me alone the whole game. It was all fair as well, and when I did slip him, someone else came and knocked into me physically and verbally. I realised then that the sheer grit and desire you had to have every single minute of every game to shake these types of opponents in order to get on the ball and create was leaving me. And once that goes, it’s all over.
Oisin: Do you think the International Rules series should continue?
Martin: I’m apathetic on the International Rules debate. It’s a great opportunity for the players involved and I loved playing under Anthony Tohill in 2010, but the game itself and the interest in it is on the decline in my opinion.
Oisin: If you could play with any player past or present, who would it be and why?
Martin: Other than you, Oisin? Colm Cooper. I played against him in 2010 when we beat Kerry and his grace and style even stood out that day. His movement and skill level was next level and I love playing and linking up with those guys who have a very high football IQ. I have spoken to club mates of Cooper and they have explained that what we see at Croke Park are only glimpses. I think that is so true of most great players in all codes. We the public think we know the stars by watching them a handful of times a year, but the true genius of what these guys produce in training and club games every week is remarkable.
Oisin: Give me one player to light up this year’s Championship.
Martin: Paddy McBrearty. I think the inside forward is on the decline but a fully-fit McBrearty is a joy to watch. I feel Donegal will go far and expect Paddy to deliver some huge hauls with that left boot.